Note that this article was published in "The Morning News" of Rogers,
AR on Sunday, Dec 23, 2007. This ministry is not restricted to only our church. However, we have been
heavily involved for the past several years. Rev. Norman Hamby, Rick Peterson, Judy Hamby, and
Cindy Stevenson all attend the First United Pentecostal Church of Rogers, AR.
Inmates Find Encouragement, Strength In Scripture
Residents Volunteer Through Ministry At Jail
Written by: Melissa Sherman
Photography by: The Morning News
Inmates at the Benton County jail in Bentonville listen as volunteer Rick Peterson speaks on Dec 13.
* faces were covered for privacy
BENTONVILLE -- Every day, residents drive past the Benton County Jail and read how many inmates are incarcerated.
But volunteers in the jail's chaplain program say there is one person whose presence, although never reflected in the jail census, is always there -- Jesus. "More than 50 volunteers are at the jail at least once a month reading the Bible to inmates", said Chaplain Norman Hamby.
Not just anyone can walk off the street to work with inmates. "Volunteers must be certified, pass a background check and have a recommendation from a religious leader in the community", Hamby said.
Rick Peterson of Lowell is one of those volunteers. He said he's volunteered for three years with the jail ministry to help bring encouragement and strength to inmates.
"These men need more than just a patty-cake religion," Peterson said, "They need true deliverance."
Hamby said inmates know the volunteers receive no compensation for the sessions they conduct and feel good that they sacrifice their time to listen.
Volunteers never ask an inmate about the crime for which they were arrested. They're also told not to give hope to the inmates that "God will open locked doors and release them early", Hamby said.
"Most inmates have baggage", Peterson said, and it's often hard to relate to the burden inmates carry.
"Inmates ask many questions during the sessions but most revolve around how they can break the chains that bind them and not wind up back within the confines of the jail", Peterson said.
Peterson teaches them not to hang out with the people that influenced them to commit a crime.
With hours of time to sit and ponder one's past and future, Peterson said, "God can speak to an inmate's heart".
"They're all scared," Peterson said.
To encourage inmates to participate in ministry sessions Peterson suggests they return to their pods and either read the Bible aloud or pray together.
Not everyone will benefit from the sessions, but If just two to three inmates turn away from sin and make it on the outside, Peterson said, "he's done a good job."
Cindy Stevenson of Rogers has volunteered with the ministry since July. Stevenson knows what it's like to make mistakes and turn one's life around.
As a teenager, Stevenson was into drugs and alcohol. Now, at age 31, she said she can relate to the female inmates.
"In each of her sessions tears are shed and questions are asked about God", she said.
"Growing up in an environment where bad choices are made by parents can and do influence children", Stevenson said. "There comes a point where the cycle of making bad choices needs to be broken", she added.
Each inmate deserves love, caring and an opportunity to turn their life around, Stevenson said.
Leon Borcherding of Bella Vista has volunteered at the jail since 1997.
"The solution to the re-incarceration problem is to have a heart change," Borcherding said.
The volunteers don't promote denominations during the sessions and instead opt to encourage inmates to find a good church upon their release.
"The test is when they get out," Borcherding said. He does see some repeat offenders at his sessions.
Some will tell Borcherding the number of times they've been through jail or prison and they want this stint in the Benton County Jail to be their last.
Often inmates will tell Borcherding they know what they should do to turn their life around but ask for direction on how to do it.
Borcherding's advice: "Don't give up on yourself if you fall back."
FAST FACTS - Baptism at the Benton County Jail:
Inmates received three cold meals a day, two cards a month and the opportunity to be baptized and cleansed of their sins. In the last decade, there have been approximately 1,200 inmates who've been baptized at the jail. Every two to three months, Chaplain Norman Hamby baptizes inmates. "Thirty to 40 inmates participate", Hamby said.