Ruben Battle has been in and out of jail more times than he cares to remember.
Two decades ago, alcohol was the reason.
Today, Battle’s trips to jail are to help others.
Battle serves as a chaplain at the Scotland County Detention Center.
“I’ve been in here so many times it’s pathetic,” said Battle. “But I got tired. I was hurting my children, spending my money, foolishness.”
Battle, a Pennsylvania native who was raised by family in Scotland County after the death of his parents, struggled with alcohol earlier in life. He found himself in jail for driving under the influence and other alcohol-related charges on more occasions than he could count.
“I was like some of the same ones in here - just kept coming back thinking that it was nothing, it was all right,” he said.
When he swore off of alcohol and its troubles 20 years ago, Battle had not yet imagined where his path would lead. He spent a decade working in construction before a disability and the acquiescence of then-jail administrator Capt. Lloyd Goins conspired to direct him to his new calling.
Raised in a Christian family, Battle said that he always knew of God. But by building faith, in part because of the efforts of volunteer jail ministers, Battle said he was able to reform himself for good.
“When they ministered to me, they opened up so many avenues in my life about myself and about being saved,” Battle said, adding that having a literally captive audience helps the lessons sink in.
“When a person is in a place like this, their spirit is broken. When a person is on the outside, they have a chance to run around, but when a person is in here, they will sit and listen.”
Battle is assisted by Evelyn Murphy, also a member of Jones Chapel, who assists with ladies’ ministry and assisting the seven women who are volunteer jail ministers.
“We don’t go in to force the Gospel on anyone,” Murphy said. “When we go in we go in with a message that’s going to bring them peace and comfort to be able to help them to endure. When somebody’s in there with all different types of people from all walks of life and can’t see daylight, it can’t be easy, but we go back there and there’s a sense of peace, there really is. They’re looking for us to come.”
Battle is now an associate minister at Jones Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Laurinburg, though as chaplain his ministry is non-denominational. He became a chaplain in 2000, spending at least a full day every week ministering to inmates. As chaplain director, he also oversees over 25 ministers who volunteer to work in the jail.
“There is a great need for people to come in and minister the gospel, because people’s lives are being changed,” he said. “Everybody wants somebody they can really talk to about issues and about life, and this is a great opportunity.”
Though most inmates are implicated in crimes that are at odds with the beliefs of many Christians, Battle says that those who make an effort to learn his teachings make his task worthwhile.
“I try to form a group to study the word, and they struggle to study the word while some of them don’t even try,” he said. “There’s already a great force between those who want to better themselves and those that don’t. If you don’t have the negative, you won’t have the positive.”
He is not discouraged by the sight of repeat offenders, those who cycle in and out of prison for the same transgressions.
“It’s a struggle; as long as a believer believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re going to struggle until the day you die,” said Battle. “The Bible simply tells you, Paul says the things I don’t want to do, that’s what I do. The things I hate, that’s what I do. Believers struggle with the flesh. It’s a daily struggle to walk right.”
In some cases, Battle may be the first authority figure in an inmate’s life to genuinely care about that person’s well-being.
“A lot of them are loud, they’re rude, but I pay that no mind because I used to do the same thing,” he said. “I build on the attitudes, because they’re trying to see if I’m real or not … if I really care. Since I’ve been here, I never have faced real rebelliousness. They show me respect for what I do.”
Those with ministerial experience who are interested in jail ministry can contact Battle at 384-8567.
“I just wish that other ministers, teachers, and laypeople would come,” Murphy said. “It’s such a joy to come in and know that you are ministering to people and you can see the peace that comes over people. It helps them get through to be able to endure what they’re going through.”