HOFFMAN — During an evening of repeated thank-yous, a plethora of paper certificates and a free baked-chicken dinner, inmates and their keepers at Morrison Correctional Institution this week honored the volunteers who bring with them weekly the hope of redemption.
But what brought the dozens of predominantly church folk in the audience to their feet Thursday night was not the recognition but the gospel singing of a quintet of prisoners who declared, “I’m a Friend of God.”
“Amen!” the crowd proclaimed.
“That’s all right! You better sing!” they cried, as they swayed and clapped along with the men at the microphones.
Prisoner/tenor John Singleton said the music “continues to help me with my rehabilitation process” — he has served 21 years and has four years and nine months to go.
“This is what God calls me to do.”
Volunteers also expressed a sense of calling, citing it as what spurred them to provide weekly Bible study and worship at the medium-security prison— efforts that Chaplain Kyle Fishbaugh called “so precious and so needed” by “these men who have erred along the way.”
“(By serving the prisoners), we fulfill what Jesus told us,” said the Rev. Jean Pierre Swamunu of St. James Catholic Church in Hamlet, who says Mass at the prison once a month.
“Also, (Jesus said), ‘I was in prison, and you visited me.’ The more I am giving to the prisoners,” Swamunu said, “the more they’re giving to me.”
Mary Hightower of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville also touched on what visiting the prison does for her.
“It keeps me humble,” she said. “I have two boys of my own, and (visiting) gives me compassion to see the young men (who are not free).
“I don’t judge them; I’m not here to judge — just to try to make it easier for them (and) let them know there’s hope.”
Two recovering alcoholics from Aberdeen — they wished to be identified only as “friends of Bill W.” — also attended, one saying he had been in prison “73 months and one day” and other, “in a prison of my own mind.”
“We carry a message of hope, a message of recovery,” one said. To which the other added: “The guys can leave prison and change their way of living.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]