By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
The chance to extend a hand into a lower world to help the people there extend a hand toward the highest world keeps corporate sponsors on the list of supporters for the J.A.I.L. Ministry year after year, lending material support to the volunteers who go into the Bell County Jail to try to turn inmates' hearts to Christ and make better lives for themselves and the community.
The core mission of the ministry, with offices in downtown Belton, is to send volunteers into the jail to meet with inmates on Thursday nights and hold services Saturdays, in the process meeting with the families to try to make it easy to stay converted when they get out, sometimes offering a little material aid.
"J.A.I.L." stands for "Jesus Acts in Inmates' Lives." Several hundred supporters attended the ministry's 13th annual banquet this week at the Bell County Expo Center and heard motivational speaker Mamie McCullough assert, "As believers, this life is all the hell we'll ever know. We're not here to judge but to encourage.
"As we see people, so we treat them," she said. "As we treat them, so they sometimes become. All it may take to turn some people's lives around is for one person to believe in them."
"Platinum sponsors" the ministry recognized were Don Ringler Chevrolet, First Texas Brokerage, Las Casas Restaurant, which also provided the fajita dinner, Mike Miller & Associates, Montgomery Chiropractic Clinic, Temple Bible Church, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and the Temple Wal-Mart.
"Gold sponsors" were Laura and Bill Barge, the law firm of Baird, Crews, Schiller & Whitaker, Carlson Law Firm, CentraLand Title Co., Construction Service & Materials, First National Bank Texas/First Convenience Bank, H2O Aerobics Systems and PaperGraphics Printing.
"Silver sponsors" were Ed Barfield, Boeselt Enterprises (Backyard Burgers and Little Caesars), Leanna and Kirk Bond, Ron Carroll Surveyors, Cloud Construction Co., Inc., Delta Centrifugal Corp., East Lake Veterinary Clinic, Gulf Coast Paper Co., Drs. Diane and David Howard, Dana and Richard Hurley, Johnson Bros. Ford, Linda and D.W. Kieff, Memorial Baptist Church of Killeen, PDI, Shalom Life Ministries, Toyota of Killeen and Wilson Art.
Don Gill of Killeen, a volunteer with the ministry since its beginning, got the only specific award of the evening, the "Angel Unaware" plaque. The reference is to a biblical passage that counsels treating unlikely people with the utmost respect because some may be angels.
Ralph Sheffield of Las Casas said he had been involved in the ministry since its founding by Harold Ellis.
"It's a way to get the message of Christ into the jail to people who might never experience it otherwise," he said. "It turns around the lives of people who might never get a helping hand. It's just one of the best ways to give that I can think of."
J.A.I.L. Ministry executive director Steve Cannon pointed to BMC West Building Materials in Killeen as a company that supports the ministry financially and sometimes hires ex-offenders. Since the offenders the J.A.I.L. Ministry tries to reach are in the county jail, either serving time for misdemeanor convictions or awaiting transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for more serious offenses, job placement is not one of its highest priorities.
"If they're freed from the county jail," he said, "often they have jobs to return to."
But BMC has taken referrals regarding ex-offenders from the Wisdom Center of New Zion Christian Fellowship, manager Jerry Baird said. "Christ died for us, so we should support efforts to help these guys get back on their feet."
Paula Lohse of Toyota of Killeen said she was invited to support the ministry by Joyce Tuggle, wife of Fort Hood
National Bank president Terry Tuggle, "and I respect Joyce's judgment. I like the idea that it's faith-based, a wonderful opportunity to reach people when they're in jail and don't have a lot else to do."
Tuggle said she was invited into the ministry by Ellis.
"The ministry does a tremendous amount of good in bringing about a spiritual experience where people can't get it otherwise and then staying in touch with people after they get out," attorney Dan Corbin said.
Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith tops the list of people emphasizing the practical value of the ministry. A Christian himself, he told the banquet attendees, "Obviously, the most important element is to win souls to salvation. But when the ministry succeeds in getting people to know Christ, they become a lot easier to handle in the jail. They don't get into fights, they don't abuse the guards, they do what they're told. They make our job a lot easier and save a lot of headaches, time and money."
A key concern of people who work with ex-offenders is keeping that effect going, and it's why the J.A.I.L. Ministry works with families to try to change the environment a person faces on release, because if his or her environment was part of the problem, a "jailhouse conversion" can wear off quickly.
It's a concern echoed by Emmett Maylone, a workforce specialist administering the Texas Workforce Commission's Project Rio (Re-Integration of Offenders) for the Central Texas Workforce Centers.
Project Rio works with people released from state facilities for up to 12 months, and Maylone said that for this fiscal year, he has worked with 429 people, 351 of whom have gained employment. His office determines an ex-offender's knowledge, skills, abilities and interests and addresses any barriers to employment such as chronic illness or lack of transportation by referral to public and private agencies, including the J.A.I.L. Ministry.
"They can help buy a set of tools, for example," he said.
Cannon said the ministry may not foot the whole bill for financial needs but will ask a person to come up with matching funds somehow.
Maylone also examines job offers to see that they don't violate parole restrictions in some way and provides other nuts-and-bolts services beyond the means of evangelistic work. And he can't involve religion in it, since he works for the government.
But he did say, "If they're in a faith community, their attitude is better, and they're more likely to succeed. If they're employed, they're far less likely to wind up in jail again."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7557