Inmate ministry volunteers honored

Published on Friday, 7 March 2014 23:06 - Written by Rebecca Hoeffner rhoeffner@tylerpaper.com

For at least 40 years, volunteers have gone to Smith County Jail to visit inmates.

“Our facility is a detention unit, not a correctional facility,” said Chief Deputy Fred Little with the Smith County Sherriff’s Office, who oversees the chaplaincy program. “Except for (these volunteers). The program helps a great deal. I really believe that. I’d like to get the 65 percent (recidivism) down to zero. This (program) is what it can take.”

About 70 jail ministry volunteers gathered for an awards ceremony Friday at Green Acres Baptist Church. Many have been volunteering for multiple years and still find it rewarding.

“They really respond,” said Samuel Chambers, a minister who has been providing words of encouragement and spiritual direction to inmates for three years. “They’ve heard the message before, but they’ve never had their back against the wall like they do in jail. Like they say, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’”

But many of the inmates do stick with their new faith and the advice they get from the ministers when they get out of jail, Chambers said.

“I see some after they get out,” he said. “I tell them to get a job, join a church and get married. Many times they have gotten a job and joined a church, not many have gotten married yet.”

Sherriff Larry Smith spoke about the importance of the work that the volunteers do.

“The needs of the inmates don’t stop when they go to jail; that’s when they have more needs,” he said.

Keynote speaker, Justice Sam Griffith with the 12th Court of Appeals, agreed.

“We’ve got to go where people need us,” he said. “Ruth Bell Graham’s epitaph reads ‘End of Construction, thank you for your patience.’ We’re all under construction, we all need shaping. The people in jail just haven’t figured out who needs to be shaping them. You are transforming this country into what it needs to be.”