My Night in Jail

 by Bob Murrayprison ministry

I’m dead-tired from a long day of work, a workout at the fitness club, and running several errands, but I feel a shot of energy as I head to the Hamilton County Jail. This is the fifth year that some of the Brothers Andrew from Holy Family have joined their brothers and sisters from congregations throughout the area in ministering to inmates at the jail. Tonight’s session is the last of six we will deliver in this series from the Alpha course – a curriculum on the basics of the Christian faith. We’ll repeat the six sessions four times throughout the year.

As I pull into the jail parking lot, I do my self-pat-down: no cell phones, pens, pencils or other potential weapons allowed in the jail. At the jail front desk I surrender my driver’s license and car keys in return for a visitor badge, which I’ll need to produce to get out of jail. I join the other volunteers, in a circle, holding hands and pray us in. It’s a source of great strength to march into the jail as the body of Christ – men and women from different denominations and faith traditions, yet united by our common love of Christ.

Because this is the last session of this series, we bring several pizzas, in addition to cookies, for the officers of the jail. We pray for them because they have a difficult job to do, and also because we really like it when they let us out after our session with the inmates is over.

The women go to a separate classroom to meet with female inmates. There’s a good crowd of male inmates – approximately 23 – in attendance tonight, and eight volunteers. We deliver two talks of approximately 20 minutes and after each talk break into two small groups of volunteers and inmates for a discussion of what we’ve just heard.

We usually don’t discuss the details of each inmate’s offenses, or alleged offenses, but it’s clear that most of them are here on alcohol- or drug-related charges. A good percentage of them are young – early to mid-20s, and unfortunately, some have been in and out of jail multiple times. Am I any better than these men? No. Did I do some things in my earlier years that might have landed me in jail? Yes. Only I didn’t get caught.

Our first talk is “What About the Church?” and is punctuated by the question and response, exclaimed three times – Who is the church? We are the church! The church is more than a building, denominations, Sunday worship. It is the people of God, the body of Christ. During our group discussion several of the inmates describe their childhood experiences in the church, how several of them fell away from the church, and how, for some of them, that was when their troubles began.

The second talk, “What Can I Do With the Rest of My Life?” is delivered by a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for many years. He has a pointed message for volunteers and inmates alike: No matter what you have done, redemption is possible. It is possible to live a life of integrity, one day at a time, but only with Christ at your side.

We leave the jail energized by the experience and filled with the Holy Spirit. But we realize this is only the first part of this jail ministry: getting acquainted with the inmates. The real work will begin when they are released. Many will need transportation, clothing, housing and a job. You see, the goal of this ministry is to make sure that as many as possible never return to jail. If that’s going to happen, these men will need more than the “correction” they receive from the criminal justice system. They’ll need to know that the good news of Christ, the hope for redemption and a life transformed applies to them, too.

This jail ministry may not be for everyone, but it may be for you. If you’d like to get involved:

  • Read Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, verses 31-46.
  • Talk to Stephen Canter, Scott Wilson, Bob French or myself about our experiences in the jail ministry.
  • Pray for this ministry.
  • Attend the next jail volunteer training session – June 8 or August 3, 7-9 PM at Christ Community Christian Church, 772 North Tenth Street in Noblesville.
  • Learn more about the Alpha course at
  • Pray for or send a donation to Jehoshua House, a Carmel-based nonprofit under whose auspices we conduct this ministry.
  • Pray for or send a donation to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Chaplaincy, which coordinates the jail volunteers.