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Ministry helps men find faith behind prison walls

It’s easy to drive quickly past the Lowe’s heading towards downtown Lincolnton, rushing to or from work and other daily obligations. It’s easy to forget what lays just behind the Lowe’s Hardware Store in Lincolnton – the Lincoln Correctional Center, a medium-security prison that houses 202 inmates serving a range of sentences for a variety of crimes.
As chaplain of Lincoln County Prison Ministries, the Rev. W.G. Painter doesn’t forget it.
“This is what God wants us to do,” Painter said. “We are helping men.”
Help them he does, organizing three weekly worship services, a host of group gatherings and a variety of special events.
Inmates can attend ice cream socials, a field day and watermelon feast and enjoy a Christmas meal and treat bags.
A volunteer at the prison for about 30 years, Painter became chaplain in 1999. However, he does not work full-time. When he’s not helping at the prison, he also serves as pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Maiden.
“This isn’t a full-time job, but it needs to be,” he said.
Many faiths are welcome and represented at the prison, ranging from Christian denominations to Muslim and Native American practices.
Music is also vital to the program. Inmates often volunteer to play the guitar or a donated keyboard.
“We’re open to a variety of faiths,” Painter said. “All are invited to participate, except those in solitary confinement.”
Prison Ministry services often help when inmates need it the most. They often connect inmates to their families when a family member died or is seriously ill. Men are encouraged to communicate with their families by sending cards the ministry provides.
The chaplain also keeps a well-stocked library of religious books and videos that inmates can borrow. Bibles are available upon request.
“It helps inmates stay at peace,” Painter said.
Bringing a “taste of home” is one of the most important aspects of his ministry.
“This reminds them of the grandmas and families that led them in the right way,” Painter said. “There’s a little bit of hope they get to see.”
Painter can regale crowds with a variety of success stories due to his work, from family reunions to inmates’ renewed sense of spirituality and purpose.
Ed Hill is just one example. He serves as the chaplain’s clerk. He’s also an inmate with 23 months left in his jail sentence.
Before entering prison he was a “taker and not a giver,” he said.
Since deepening his spirituality, Hill’s life has taken a more purposeful, meaningful path.
“I have been able to see and learn that I can be a respectable member of society,” he said. “I can do better through spiritual guidance and instruction.”
And what about his release, just under two years from now?
“I hope to be involved in some sort of ministry, wherever the door will be opened for me,” he said. “There are a lot of men who have the potential of living a good life. I am one of them.”
Lincoln County Prison Ministry serves a dual purpose. In addition to enhancing participants’ spirituality, they also help prisoners adjust to a new life once they get out from behind bars.
“We have to acclimate them away from prison,” Painter said. “They have to learn to think for themselves in a positive and beneficial way.”
The chaplain acknowledges that not all men who seek his help do so with the best of intentions.
Many are just seeking a better life for themselves, without wanting a deeper relationship with God or a more religious lifestyle, he said.
“No matter who it is, I will help them,” he said.
He welcomes other’s help, too.
“We’re always looking for help,” he said. “I call myself the mooching missionary.”
Volunteers are integral to the ministry’s success. About 28 area churches provide around 130 volunteers on a regular basis.
“We’re at a high time for involvement right now,” Painter said.
And for ministry detractors, who think that prisoners should not enjoy even a few of the benefits the outside world does?
Painter understands these feelings, but says “we feel like inmates should be treated humanely. They ought not be forgotten.”
by Katie Rozycki

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