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REC plants a seed in jail

The late Vest Ladd, a legendary drug and alcohol counselor, said God must live in jail because so many people meet Him there. The same could be said about war because so many frightened soldiers get to know God during ‘foxhole conversions.’
When people are in trouble, deep trouble, they often turn to God. For many people, that’s when they need God, and for many people that’s when they meet God for the first time. That’s why the ‘Residents Encounter Christ’ (REC) is a good prison ministry. It fills a real need and enables troubled people to start a new life right where they are.
Six RECs have been held at the Harrison County Jail in Corydon (including two for women) the past few years. The last one ended Sunday afternoon. Fifty-eight inmates had applied and 50 were approved to take part in the evangelistic ‘retreat’ in the recreation room that starts Friday evening and ends late Sunday afternoon. (The prisoners return to their cells each night.)
In Southern Indiana, RECs have also been held at the Floyd County, Clark County and Washington County jails and the Madison Minimum Security Prison.
The inmates are treated very well by a large team of Christians, clergy and laymen alike, who have all been through the Walk to Emmaus, a 72-hour interdenominational retreat sponsored by the Dayspring Emmaus Community of Southern Indiana. (Dayspring has put on about 70 spiritual enrichment retreats for men and women the last 13 years or so, most of them at the CCC camp in the Harrison-Crawford state forest.)
The inmates listen to talks on a variety of selected subjects designed for them, there are discussion periods, some pressure-relieving silliness, some sermons, worship services, communion, lots of good food (much of it homemade), and music by a live band that rocks the house. It may not sound like the best way to spend the weekend, but if you’re an inmate who feels badly about his past and wants to make amends, the REC is a good place to start. Usually, some members of the REC team have served time. The inmates listen to them very carefully.
Sheriff Mike Deatrick said he thinks the REC is a good idea and helps some inmates; realistically, he said, maybe 15 out of 50 might be sincere, although it’s impossible to say because what inmates hear today may not have an effect on their lives until next week or next year.
Jail commander Ray Byrne admits to being a bit more cynical, but he’s The Man who has to deal with all the inmates, on a daily basis, and he sees things the REC volunteers and jail chaplains never see. It also means more work for him and his staff.
‘It has some good effect,’ Byrne said, ‘but probably not as much as people like to believe it has.’ However, both he and Deatrick said if the REC helps only a few souls, it’s worth the effort.
Byrne said there’s always an increase in Bible study after an REC.
One problem with the REC is that there’s no follow-up. It’s difficult to find ministers who are willing to counsel prisoners on a regular post-REC basis, and it’s hard to track prisoners after they’re sent to another prison or released. So one can’t scientifically study whether the REC has a genuine impact or not.
Ron Miller says it did. This last weekend was his third REC. Miller, 40, is serving time here for violating probation and driving when his license had been suspended for life. Miller describes the REC in these terms: moving, relieving, overwhelming. He said it helped him look deeper into himself and allowed him ‘to meet a God I never knew. It opened up doors.’ For the first time in his life, he realized that ‘I’m not a bad person. I just made some bad mistakes.’
A lot of prisoners are shocked during an REC to find that they can love and be loved. Some of them have little or no self-respect or self-esteem; some have never known love, even when they were children. Many come from terrible broken homes with violent or nonexistent parents. Many were abused ‘ sexually, physically, mentally, emotionally.
At the REC, some inmates are ‘treated as adults for the first time,’ Miller said. Some experience a kind of success for the first time. That, believe it or not, is hard for some people to take, as Vest Ladd was fond of saying, and they’ll return to familiar old ways, regardless of how self-destructive they are. So support and follow-up is important, especially when inmates get out of jail. (A couple of laymen are working on that very problem, and may have announcements ready soon.)
Miller said he started reading the Bible, attended Bible study sessions in the jail, started talking with his family, and got rid of a lot of anger. He said he became a new person.
Carl Uesseler, the former Lanesville school principal and superintendent, has worked on RECs at Harrison County, Clark County and Madison. He said they give unfortunate people a great opportunity to meet people who care about them. The imates learn that they can be loved through the grace of God alone. ‘You never know what kind of effect you’re going to have on their lives,’ he said, ‘but you plant the seed and let God water it and let it grow.’
Uesseler is not na’ve. He knows that not all the inmates sign-up for the REC to hear about God, forgiveness and the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. The REC is a real change of pace to a stultifying existence, and the never-ending supply of soft drinks and food is almost too good to be true.
Uesseler said he has nothing but admiration for the men and women who give their time and talent to work with prisoners. ‘Some do deserve to be there,’ he said, ‘but that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. We’re all God’s children and deserve the same chance to know Him.’