The areas inside the correctional facilities where we conduct our church services and small groups typically occur in the chapel or the visitation area. You will not go into the general population areas. The inmates who attend our services are generally as excited to be there as any church attendee at any campus.
When you attend Training Day, you will be presented with all the ministry opportunities that we have. Before you leave the training, you will be connected with the ministry leaders at the facility you choose to serve at. All details that you will need to begin serving will be given to you at that time.
Correctional facilities are located throughout the state, and depending on which prison facility you serve at, you should anticipate a minimum of 5 hours. Each of our time slots are 1.5-2 hours, and it generally takes about 30 minutes to go through security.
When our teams arrive at the correctional facility, we generally sign a log book, turn in our driver’s licenses and walk through a metal detector. An officer may pat each person down in a gender appropriate manner. We always walk to the meeting room together as a team and are usually escorted by security both in and out.
On Training Day, the ADOC trainer will go over all the rules pertaining to ministering inside a correctional facility. Primarily, we only take in the material that is used for the Sunday Worship Service or small group. This includes curriculum, DVDs, pens and worship guides. Personally, a team member can take in a Bible with no loose notes, a pen and any approved curriculum material. We are not allowed to take gum, food, drinks, iPods or electronic devices into the prison without prior approval. If you must have medication with you, you will have to leave it with the gate security and come out of the facility to access it if needed.
Depending on where and when you serve, you can ride on the church van or carpool with other team members. At the local facilities, the team usually meets at the facility or at a restaurant.
One of the most important factors in correctional ministry is consistency and faithfulness in our commitment. We schedule our Sunday serve opportunities on a rotation of 2 services each month. The small groups run concurrent with our Highlands semesters, which is a 12-week commitment. Every serve opportunity is team-driven, so if you are unable to make a commitment, we always have enough team members to conduct the service without interruption.
It is easy to become very fond of the inmates and feel compassionate toward their plight. The ADOC policies do not allow ministry volunteers to give anything to an inmate that isn’t previously approved. As a ministry, we have been approved to take certain items in to our services that are available to every inmate, such as an approved pen, worship guide, Bible and communion elements. Nothing can be given to, or taken from, an inmate at any time that hasn’t been approved by Highlands leadership and ADOC.
The ADOC policies state that volunteers, who physically minister inside a correctional facility, are not allowed to visit, write or give money to an inmate. Nor may a volunteer associate with an inmate’s family members. At Highlands, we have Correspondence Teams who write to the inmates in response to their Connection Card prayer requests and letters that they write to the church.
We are not permitted to contact anyone on behalf of an inmate. Many times inmates attempt to persuade a volunteer to convey a message that is actually a coded message that they do not want the ADOC to intercept through mail or a phone conversation. Conveying such a message could implicate you in criminal activity and, at the least, cause you and/or this ministry to be banned from entering the facility.
Under no circumstances are we allowed to provide personal information to an inmate. If you would like for an inmate to send something to you, have him/her send it to the Highlands Grants Mill Campus. We are not allowed to develop a pen pal relationship with an inmate if we are ministering inside the facilities.