After 36 years in radio, television and advertising, Steve Cannon said the implementation of a 24-hour, low-power radio station specifically for Bell County inmates probably should have happened sooner.
But it’s all in good time … or, rather, God’s time.
The Christian-themed radio station came online Oct. 30, said Cannon, executive director of the J.A.I.L. ministry in Bell County, who hopes to expand the station to other jails throughout Texas.
Cannon said he and former Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith believe that spiritual ministry should be a vital component in jail work.
“J.A.I.L. stands for Jesus Acts in Inmate’s Lives, and Sheriff Smith always supported our ministry because it helps the inmates be better inmates in jail and helps them when they are out of jail not to come back in.”
Smith, who retired Dec. 31, suggested about a year ago that Cannon put together a proposal to operate the radio programming, using money from the jail commissary.
“All of the profit that comes from the commissary needs to be used for inmate programming,” Smith said. “I knew that in addition to the programs for counseling, substance abuse, life skill training, and a variety of other programs, that we had some funds available (that) could be used (by J.A.I.L. ministry) to benefit the inmates. (Cannon) said he thought that there would be a number of good programming materials available that would especially help inmates.”
Christian radio was influential in Cannon’s life, especially in his marriage and parenting. “Harold Ellis (founder of J.A.I.L. Ministry) used to say ‘All of us are inmates, we just haven’t been caught yet.’ So if I’ve been helped by Christian radio, I knew the inmates would be, too.”
The FM radio broadcast signal is weak beyond the Bell County Jail parking lot, but the programs can be heard at www.jailmin.com.
Because inmates can listen via the low-power broadcast and families can listen over the Internet, Cannon said some of the programming is geared to families as well as those who are about to go to jail.
“Some programs are going to be: ‘What do I do now that I’m about to go off to jail? How do I live?,’” Cannon said. “We’re going to do a program for the families of inmates, saying ‘I’m a mom, I’m a dad, one of my family members is going to prison. I don’t know anything about this. When can I visit?’ We will record this right here.”
The radio studio is in downtown Belton.
Cannon said he’s been in contact with four other counties and entities about using the programming he’s put together, but the new ministry is still working out a few kinks.
“I’ve listened to it, and it has a variety of programming specifically selected with the inmates in mind,” Smith said. “It’s still in the infancy stage and it will grow.”
Inmates can check out a radio and can tune in with an earpiece. “You can’t put inmates in a situation where they are forced to listen, but I’ve heard several of the inmates were tuning in,” Smith said.