A church in Wheatfield, Indiana, is making a difference in lives of inmates in Jasper County. The church has been holding weekly services at the county jail for only three months, but the inmates, corrections officers, and sheriff say they can already see an impact.
“We have a quieter atmosphere,” says Jasper County Sheriff Patrick Williamson. “In times past, you would hear banging, kicking, yelling, screaming, but now it’s very quiet. They get along well, they treat staff better so we have less incident. It just complements the other things going on in our jail.”
Jasper County Jail Culture Shift
John Hill is the senior pastor of First Church in Wheatfield and has been with the church since 2014. After successfully working with Williamson to start an addiction recovery house for men, the church decided to pursue ministry in the Jasper County Jail. Hill says, “Our church was really excited just to build bridges with these families, help them connect with our community, help them with employment, and just show them that we care.”
First Church holds a weekly worship service on Thursdays. The jail supplies coffee, and the church brings in sound equipment, chairs, and donuts. Going to a service is optional for inmates, and about half of the men and women in the jail currently attend. Anthony Gann, who is in for drug use, says that while the inmates did have a Bible study, “it’s awesome to get to have that real church experience while we are in here doing our time.”
Hill says, “The corrections officers have talked about how the entire culture of the jail has shifted. The inmates are caring for one another and actually thinking about life beyond bars.” They are also putting their faith in Jesus. Three weeks ago, the church posted this video on Facebook of five men and four women declaring their faith in God and being baptized.
The jail is implementing a number of other solutions to help inmates build healthy habits and prepare for life on the outside. There is a psychologist to help them with mental health challenges. They participate in community service projects, and female offenders can receive training on how to care for their families.
There is also a garden right outside the jail that inmates tend. The food goes first to the jail’s kitchen and then to people in need. Williamson says his team makes sure the inmates hear how the produce is helping people, so offenders can see the positive ways they are impacting the community.
The purpose of these efforts is to equip people to give back to their families and society in order to break the cycle of crime. The sheriff is a Christian and believes in the power of the gospel to make a difference in people’s lives. He says, “I believe that Jesus is the only hope in the world. I think we live in a society that is so quick to condemn people but Jesus was so quick to give people second chances.”