Ministry reaches out to ex-prisoners

Prison isn’t just a brick-and-mortar sort of place.

“There’s such a thing as a spiritual prison,” said Kelvin Bernard Whitehead, “and we’ve all been there.”

Mr. Whitehead spoke Sunday night during a worship service for former inmates and their families at New Life Worship Center in Hephzibah. He served 12 years for armed robbery but now wants to become a minister.

“I know the feeling of being locked up. I know the feeling of being behind walls, separated from society,” he said.

God used it to save him. Mr. Whitehead became a Christian at the Augusta State Medical Prison under the watch of its chaplain, the Rev. Roy L. Norman.

The Rev. Norman also spoke Sunday night at the church, where a crowd of nearly 100 gathered. More than a dozen or so were released inmates, who were asked to stand and be recognized for a portion of the service.

The church’s jail and prison ministry holds this sort of service annually.

It also makes regular visits to prisons in the region and assembles gift bags for inmates at Christmas, said ministry director Harriet Veasy. She said the ministry has been a part of the church’s outreach for at least five years and that a few released inmates choose to worship there regularly.

“So many times we don’t get to people before they’re in prison, so we’ve got work to do once they get out,” said her husband, Stephenson Veasy, who leads the ministry’s public relations. “They come because New Life isn’t just a name. It’s a place for a fresh start.”

Those involved with the ministry often find there’s not much of a difference between people in prison and people who haven’t gone to prison. At one time, we were all prisoners, the Rev. Norman preached, prompting a spontaneous offering as church members put money at his feet.

“I minister to the minority of the prisoners,” the Rev. Norman explained. It’s the church’s pastors, the Rev. Claude Harris and Regina Harris, who minister to the most broken people every day, he said. “Most prisoners are not behind bars. They are out here in the community.”

That community has to be willing to accept rehabilitated offenders, people who are not that different from themselves, the Rev. Norman said.

“We will see them in our grocery stores. They will be living next door. Our ministry to them has to be real,” he said.

But that takes willing hands.

“We need help. We need laborers. We need ministers. We need people like Jesus,” the Rev. Norman said, pleading with the congregation. “It’s the least of the least we must minister to. They can be reached. They can be taught. Their hearts can be changed. We can see the captives set free.”

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