WAGRAM — Most people prefer to avoid Scotland Correctional Institute, but one church ministry has been trying to get inside the facility for years.
Kairos Prison Ministry is an international ministry, based on Orlando, Florida, supporting correctional facilities in 35 states and nine countries. The ministry’s methods involve discussion groups, meditations, individual and group activities as an invitation to have a personal relationship with Christ, according to Charlie Barrow, a Laurinburg volunteer who works with the prison ministry.
The group has been unable to get into the Scotland Correctional Institute since the 1,756-bed facility was placed on lock-down three years ago after a murder and suicide occurred within a short period
Officials with Scotland Correctional Institution could not be reached for comment.
In this area, the ministry works mainly with Hoke Correctional Institution in Raeford.
According to Cynthia Gibbs, case manager at Hoke Correctional Institution, the amount of trouble with inmates in the facility has been on the decline since Kairos Ministry began working with the inmates.
“It gives them a chance to give testimonies about things that have happened to them in prison and out of prison,” she said. “They tend to have more respect for themselves and from what I’ve seen with Kairos, it has had a positive effect.”
During the sessions, inmates are not asked about their sentences or why they’re in prison. The overall goal of the program is not to convert the participants, but to establish a prayer ministry. Participants do not have to have a spiritual background or affiliation.
“We start as team leaders and begin encouraging them to talk to each other,” Barrow said.
There are about 24 team members to engage with the inmates in group talks called “prayer in chair.” The purpose of the talks is to discuss their relationship with God.
The Kairos Prison Ministry has volunteers from Scotland, Hoke, Robeson, Richmond and Moore counties.
“It just gets in my blood being a part to see the spirit move through the hardened hearts of the people,” said Howard Bradshaw of Laurinburg, who has volunteered for about six years. “It’s good to see the change in somebody, even the staff sees the change in the people — it’s something exciting to me.”
Every year, the ministry has a four-day weekend event where they select maximum or medium security individuals to participate. Inmates chosen must have at least three years of their sentence left to serve.
During the four-day event at Hoke Correctional, held in October, the inmates participated in clergy-lead talks, based on biblical principles.
“We want the leaders in the prison and folks who influence the other inmates,” said Barrow, who also serves on the local advisory council.
The first night started as an “introspective” night where the inmates could look back at all the events that have taken place in their lives. On the second day, the groups held five sessions about the various ways people depict Christ. On day three, the ministry held a “forgiveness” night for the inmates. Each inmate had the opportunity to write down on piece of water-soluble paper the name of someone they have yet to forgive, afterwards placing each paper in a bowl of water to dissolve.
Afterwards, the groups grilled hot dogs and hamburgers outside the parking lot of the facility. Among all the food prepared, the ministry had no problem also serving Thanksgiving dinner for the inmates.
“They ate so much it hurt,” Barrow said.
Since the ministry is a non-profit organization, the food is supplied by team members, organizations and churches. Team members strive to raise $250 each to help with preparations. Every year, the program raises about $5,000 every year to cover the costs.
“We treat the participants like they’re at a five-star restaurant,” Barrow said.
After participants have gone through the program, some are asked to come back to serve food to new participants at the next event. These servers are referred to as “angels.”
Bradshaw said the toughest part of the ministry is getting enough volunteers to help because they are either fearful of the environment or short on spirituality.
“The whole thing is for us to come in and give these guys inspiration,” Bradshaw said. “We just try to get the word out to the churches and hope that every single church from Pinehurst to Scotland County volunteers.”
For information about Kairos Prison Ministry and how to volunteer call, Charlie Barrow, 704-654-8602.