Despite recent attempts to force God out of families, communities and entire nations, He has proven Himself capable of lifting men out of their slimy pits and giving them a firm place to stand. Such was the case for Charles “Chuck” Whitehead, who first encountered God in a 10’x10’ solitary confinement cell at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in July of 1993.
Having had his clothes, his towels, and even his toothbrush confiscated for the sake of uniformity, Whitehead had no where to turn but to the Bible his mother had packed for him.
“I had never heard the plan of salvation. I had no understanding of the concept, but I had a grandmother who spent a lot of time praying to Someone I didn’t know,” Whitehead said. “I prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t know anything about You. I don’t know if You’re real, but my grandmother believes You’re real, and if You are, I want You to show Yourself to me because I’m as far down as I care to go.’ Then I sat down and started reading the Bible,” he said.
Whitehead came across Jeremiah 33:3, which reads, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Whitehead has termed this truth his “life verse.”
“He did just what He promised He would do,” Whitehead said. “He showed Himself to me through His Word and through other people, both those who had had a relationship with the Lord but had backslidden and those like me who got saved in prison.”
Whitehead also recalled churches offering him Bible studies and discipleship programs during his six-month stint. With the help of the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering, criminal justice ministries are able to assist four groups of people: inmates and ex-offenders, law enforcement officers, victims and family members.
“Prison is a lonely and difficult time for just about anybody, so having someone who will listen is really important,” said Don Gann, consultant in the Men’s Ministry Department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. Criminal justice ministries are usually coordinated by local churches, although the state also hires chaplains to work full-time in prisons which allow them to do so.
Gann sympathized with wardens and guards, who often work twelve-hour shifts and require grief counseling. He also noted that spouses and children of inmates struggle through their loved ones’ incarceration more than many realize.
“I’ll always have a heart for state missions because I was saved in prison, and I realize the state funds provide for that,” Whitehead said.
Margaret Lackey dollars made a good investment in Whitehead, who now sings in the choir at North Columbia Baptist Church in Columbia and teaches seventh through ninth grade boys’ Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and a young adult discipleship training class. For more information about criminal justice ministries, contact Gann at 800-748-1651 or firstname.lastname@example.org.