Inmate Missionaries

Can a bad inmate become good? Can one who once exhibited the most destructive and dangerous behavior then become the one who exhibits wholeness and peace, even to the point of desiring to impart healing to others? Dr. Kristi Miller and Dr. Vance Drum,[1] both previous prison chaplains, have witnessed genuine rehabilitation. They have seen inmates who are living a life of fullness and serenity, who are modeling good behavior from a sincerely changed heart - a new life direction.

Devilly, Sorbello, and Eccleston[2] point out that traditionally, within the offender rehabilitation framework, the offenders themselves are seen as passive recipients of treatment' and are required to adopt the role of patient, client, or student, with the change process resting upon a professional staff. Yet, offenders themselves represent the largest group of untapped resources in most rehabilitation frameworks, capable of having a powerful and positive influence on fellow offenders.

Catalyst Ministries, in partnership with the West Virginia Division of Corrections, has tapped into those resources. Graduates of the Mt. Olive Bible College are sent as missionaries to other West Virginia Prisons to serve as peer mentors. The inmate peer mentors will serve both the needs of the administration and their peers.

Miller and Drum have noted that inmates are takers in part because they have been wounded in their lives - broken minds, injured bodies, and shattered souls. They are operating from a place of serious deficiency and need. Yet, by serving others, morally rehabilitated inmates know that they add worth to their own lives as they help their peers find a better path, they become "wounded healers.

We get to witness these “wounded healers” serving others, and the impact is real. Their peers respond to them differently, then they do administration or volunteers. Most of the men have experienced similar pain and loss of hope. When they see a transformed life in the mentors, it gives them hope for themselves.

In West Virginia, the mentors facilitate various programs, lead congregational services, visit the sick, hold the hand of the dying, etcetera. A tremendous impact is through their sidewalk ministry. Here, the mentors spend time with fellow inmates in the prison yard. Many times, an inmate just needs a kind ear to listen to them, a word of encouragement, a brief conversation without all the “stuff” the prison environment brings.

Peer to peer mentoring works, it is an asset in changing the hearts of men, which translates to improved prison culture, and safer communities upon release.

[1] Kristi B. Miller, and Vance L. Drum, "Inmate Peer Ministry: The Chaplain's Role,Corrections Today 81, no. 2 (2019): 11.

[2] Grant J. Devilly, Laura Sorbello, Lynne Eccleston, and Tony Ward, “Prison-based peer-education schemes,” Science Direct: Aggression and Violent Behavior 10, (2005): 220.