Mich. jail ministry helps inmates fortify beliefs

By Curtis Wildfong

The Argus-Press

CORUNNA, Mich. (AP) -- It may be just a room: A room with off-white colored bricks as walls, two metal tables anchored to the floor, a stack of plastic chairs and a lone Ping-Pong table, all locked within a 20-foot metal gate. But on Friday nights, it's a sanctuary.

The parishioners aren't the holy, they're not saints nor are they divine. they are inmates. But on Friday nights, they are the faithful.

About two dozen inmates filed into that very room recently-- most with different versions of the Bible -- for the second session of Shiawassee County Jail Chaplain Tim Duffield's Bible study.

"My goal is to present the truth. If they embrace the truth of God it can truly affect lives," he said.

As the study began, that became apparent. The first words spoken by the chaplain, "Who has something they would like to pray for?" The arms went up.

"I would like to pray for my uncle with leukemia. He's been in and out of the hospital," one inmate said.

They even prayed for each other.

"I'd like to pray for my cellmate's mother who is going through some health issues," another said.

Most, however, prayed for their families.

"I'd like to pray for my children and their mother. Keep them safe," another inmate asked.

Then the service began. Amongst nods of the heads and a few "Amens," Duffield spoke of his truth.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice," he read from the Bible. The men listened as Duffield interpreted. "Our lives are filled with a few high points, a lot of low points and a few points in the middle, but we must rejoice in the Lord always."

The idea hit home for one inmate, Anthony, who said he turned from God after the death of his father.

"I lost my way of where I stand with (God)," he said. "I chose to walk away from faith and God." Anthony who chose to attend as he has for nearly two months, said the studies and Chaplain Duffield have helped him recapture his faith.

"I come here and think about things I take for granted in life," he said. "I'm no longer weak. I am strong."

Sure, some probably attend just for an hour or two outside their cell, but Duffield said a lot are genuine in their faith, like Anthony.

"Most of them won't take anything out of here, but four or five guys are truly changing their direction in life," he said. And to him, if he can change one life it's reward enough. "When these guys get out and go home to be the husbands and fathers they need to be, how many will that affect? That's where results can be enormous."

The ultimate goal is developing a personal relationship with God, Duffield told the men. It's not about going to church, saying you believe in Him or asking God for favors. It's about believing in God's word and acting accordingly, he said.

"God is near," Duffield read. He is with you always, at home, at work and even in your cell. It is from their cell where some must find God, Duffield said.

Dominic, an inmate who is held in maximum security and cannot attend the services, still gets the opportunity to meet with Duffield, who following walks from cell to cell following his service to talk with inmates.

Through the bars, Duffield shakes their hands, "Is there anything I can do covering the Bible tonight?" he asks. Some ask questions, some don't, some laugh him off. For those like Dominic, his visits are welcomed.

"He brings a whole new meaning to life," Dominic said of Duffield's personal cell visits. "In a lot of people that's lost. I find guidance through God himself."

Dominic, who entered the jail just 11 months ago reading at a second grade level, has learned up to 40 new words a week by self-educating himself with a small English language book. The reason? So he can read the Bible. Duffield's visits often serve as a time for Dominic to ask questions about his readings.

His question was about temptation.

With one foot up on the cell bars, a hand on his Bible and the other leaning on the cell, Duffield told him about Satan's temptation. Dominic took it in.

"It makes you think of consequences," Dominic said. "God is the authority."

For Duffield, it isn't a job, it isn't an obligation, it isn't a duty; it's a calling.

"God put the love of the ministry in my heart," he said.

The fact that his congregation aren't in pews, they are behind bars, doesn't matter to him. Again, the ultimate goal is a personal relationship with the Lord, he said. And it's a relationship he has helped many build.

"Sure, they're sitting in prison, but I don't care about that," he said. "I know where they stand with their relationship with Christ."

Published: Thu, May 26, 2011