Inmates get hope through ministry

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, September 4, 2014

There might be no more hopeless situation for someone than finding himself or herself in jail.

They’ve either been charged or convicted of a crime. They have no freedom to go where they want, do as they please, wear what they want or even eat what they like. Their visits with family and friends are limited or nonexistent. They’re surrounded by people who are in the same situation. And, perhaps worst of all, they are likely to be in that situation for quite some time.

For the guilty among them, at least, there’s a good reason they’re in that situation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little hope and some good news.

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A local nonprofit has been delivering the good news of Jesus Christ to inmates in 24 Southeastern Virginia jails for the last 33 years. The Southeastern Correctional Ministry aims to “set the captive free,” not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense.

Even those of us who have never been convicted of a crime are being held captive if we have not yet believed in Christ as our savior. Likewise, those in jail can be set free spiritually if they trust in the Lord.

The Southeastern Correctional Ministry has about 140 volunteers, including 15 or so in Suffolk who regularly visit the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. These folks go directly into the cell blocks, where the inmates live, and talk with them face to face. They sit with them wherever they are — even on the floor, one volunteer told me recently — and share Christianity with them. Sometimes they lead them in prayer or talk through a Bible lesson. Often, volunteers told me recently, the inmates simply want to talk about their families and their situations.

None of the inmates is forced to talk to the volunteers, but those who do are encouraged to get involved in programs and a church when their sentences are over.

Volunteer Gina Pitrone told me last week she believes those who talk to the volunteers are more likely to stay on the straight and narrow once they get out of jail.

Some have even formed their own groups to study the Bible when the volunteers aren’t there, she added.

Volunteer Jay Dorschel said the organization is accepting donations to pay the salary of one coordinator and to pay for the printed lessons the inmates receive. If you give, you’re reaching out with a little bit of hope that goes straight to someone in desperate need of it.

To donate, email rejoyce283@gmail.com or mail a check to Southeastern Correctional Ministry, 40 Kings Way, Hampton, VA 23669.

For more information, email jdorschel@nansemondins.com.