BELTON — Inmates in Bell County Jail who want help restoring their lives can find that help with J.A.I.L. Ministries.
The acronym stands for Jesus Acts in Inmates Lives, which is exactly what the late Chaplain Harold Ellis hoped for when he founded the ministry in 1987.
Steve Cannon has been the executive director for J.A.I.L for nine years and was formerly the manager of a local radio station.
“This is not anything I ever wanted to do,” Cannon said, adding he felt God had other plans for him.
On his first visit to the Bell County Jail Annex, Cannon was horrified. After he left, he had no interest in going back to the jail but was willing to serve on the board. When he did return to the jail many years later, he was surprised.
“You could tell that God was in there making a difference. I could feel it, and it just fell over top of me,” Cannon said. “Everything changed. God kind of threw me through the door.”
Cheryl Baird of Belton has worked for J.A.I.L. Ministries for 14 years and is now the juvenile coordinator. She started as a volunteer while studying at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“I had never been in a jail in my life,” Baird said, explaining her fear of visiting a jail filled with women. “There were about 20 women in there, and when I left, my heart was encompassed in working with them.”
Baird now finds working with juvenile offenders just as rewarding.
Johner Martin of Belton was incarcerated from 1993 to 1998. He was viewed as a person who would never change, he said, and his own family had given up on him.
“Someone gave me a small Gideon’s Bible, but I thought the Bible was for weak people,” Martin said.
Despite his disdain, he began reading the Bible every day to help him sleep. In the meantime, J.A.I.L. Ministries was working with inmates like Martin through the cell bars.
“I got saved every Thursday from April to June because I would say the sinner’s prayer every class,” Martin said. “But it wasn’t until June that I was really saved. I have been stabbed, shot and beaten but never felt the pain I felt when I was saved as God healed me.”
When he was released from jail, Martin began working for J.A.I.L. Ministries and now is the men’s coordinator, a position he has held for 12 years. He also has a radio station that runs all day, every day in the Bell County Jail system.
Along with Baird, Cannon and volunteers, Martin strives to carry on Ellis’ legacy — to keep J.A.I.L. a ministry and not just a “jailhouse” entity.
For more information about J.A.I.L. Ministries, go to www.jailmin.org.