It looks like we may finally turn the corner this week on a long, hot summer. The long-range forecast shows 90 for the weekend and the remainder of the month will be in the 80s. There will still be some hot days before fall, but hopefully nothing like we have experienced this summer.
It seems like these last few months were not only one of the hottest in years, but also one of the busiest. Thankfully my wife and I enjoyed a brief break last week for a trip to Orange Beach. I’m not a beach person, but the 80 degree days with no humidity were enjoyable. And a few days floating in the ocean is good for your soul, not to mention the seafood.
Before the beach outing, I enjoyed a four-day mission trip in the Mississippi Delta. People go all over the world on mission trips, but there is an opportunity to serve much closer to home. For the last seven years I have served with the Kairos Prison Ministry at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman.
Parchman has the unfortunate reputation as one of the most violent prisons in the country. Many remember the outburst of violence that started in late 2019 and early 2020. In a single week, three inmates were killed. The prison was on lockdown for months during the unrest. The Covid outbreak followed, and the prison remained on lockdown for over two years.
Faith-based programs were able to resume limited ministry work in early 2022, and Kairos volunteers were among the first to reenter the prison in February. Each Wednesday night different Kairos volunteers go to several units on the farm for church services with our brothers in Christ.
There is a strong church inside those bars, men who love the Lord. I know some people are skeptical of “jailhouse conversions,” but serving the Lord in Parchman is a tough walk. When an inmate professes Christ as his Savior, the men around him watch intently. If he stumbles, cellmates will quickly label him as a hypocrite.
When I go home at night, only my wife knows my actions. In prison, hundreds of people have eyes on you at all time. If the offender had an addiction problem, drugs will be readily offered as a temptation. You talk about a testing ground, these men have strong faith that always humbles us freeworlders.
During the height of the violence in early 2020, men were moved from Unit 29, the maximum security unit at Parchman, to other areas. Some went to the long-abandoned Unit 32, where they stayed for days. Their belongings left behind, some of the men shared portions of the Bible they had memorized as worship continued. The Christians were a minority, but you can bet their faith touched others who do not know the Lord, especially during those trying times.
Spending four days in Parchman in July, I can report that change is sweeping across the prison. It started in May, 2020, when Governor Tate Reeves appointed Burl Cain as the Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Cain is changing the embattled prison system across the state by working to eradicate gangs, implementing programs that help inmates develop skills to prepare for re-entry into society and placing strong emphasis on faith-based programs.
As a longtime warden at Angola in Louisiana, Cain brought former inmates to serve as chaplains in Parchman. These men served their time in Angola and accepted jobs that took them back to prison in Mississippi. They are making a huge difference. Inmates have explained that in years past when they saw a chaplain on the zone it was bad news – typically a death in the family.
Two months ago an inmate shared a story about reaching rock-bottom. Strung out on drugs, he was contemplating suicide. His family members frantically reached out to one of the chaplains, who immediately responded. This man’s life has changed and he was very thankful for the support. That is just one example of many we have witnessed.
Cain has been very transparent about problems in the prisons, especially the drugs and gangs. The change will not happen overnight, but he has made great strides in a little over two years. He embraces programs like Kairos Prison Ministry. If you are interested in finding out more about Kairos or would like to serve, let me know. There are opportunities for men and women. I promise you will be blessed and humbled.