ERROL CASTENS: Columnist goes to Parchman for good work



By the time you read this, I’ll probably be in Parchman.

This weekend, Kairos Prison Ministry members are scheduled to spend 72 hours or so in Mississippi State Penitentiary.

In that time, we hope to come to know nearly 50 inmates at Unit 30 and use our flawed hearts and minds to introduce them to Jesus Christ.

Several dozen friends from Southaven to Starkville and from Baptist to Episcopalian have prepared for this weekend for months. As with most mission efforts, it involved thousands of man-hours of team building and training as well as individual logistical assignments.

To say we anticipate these trips joyfully is to cloak the truth in pious language. In the last few days, we’ve been giddy with anticipation of getting to watch God work.

Most inmates will come in expecting to meet suit-wearing, hand-folding, prim-and-proper Sunday school teachers. Instead, they’ll find people a lot like themselves.

They’ll hear of the lives we wasted before Christ met us – some in fearful, faithless spiritual paralysis, and others in confessions straight out of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. They’ll see most of us, with just a few different circumstances, could have been wearing prison stripes.

Inmates will enjoy several privileges rare in Parchman: They’ll be waited on, listened to, accepted and encouraged.

They will praise God in songs that admit helplessness, embrace forgiveness and express longing for a freedom that has nothing to do with guards and razor wire.

They’ll be shown that thousands of people worldwide are praying for them. (If you’re a believer, we also solicit your prayers.)

A series of short talks over three days will build on each other to present the gospel of Christ to these folks who live in an unusually dark place. Prayer will doubtless range from the quiet, contemplative kind to the sweating, sobbing, fetal-position kind that lifts burdens unimaginable to many folks from polite society.

At every Kairos walk, connections too coincidental not to be God’s orchestrating show up. Gang rivals unknowingly assigned to adjacent seats end up praying for each other; a repentant killer unexpectedly meets a kinsman of his victim and hears forgiveness; an inmate becomes friends with the son of one of his convicting jurors.

Some inmates will remain unfazed, but others will want to hear more. Some will surrender their fears and failures and become new people right before our eyes – an experience I would wish for every Christian man I know to witness.

For those convinced prison religion is always fake, I refer them to some converted friends who’ll never leave Parchman alive but who are among the most joyful people I know.

After all, Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 9:13, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Errol Castens is a news writer for the Daily Journal and the Oxford Citizen. Contact him at (662) 816-1282 or

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    I don’t need to agree with your politics to applaud you for this work you do with prison ministry. This is phenomenal, thank you. I don’t know how you do it but in my own experience, prison ministry can bring together people of all demographics into a common non-judgmental space. A space that isn’t very easily replicated beyond the walls. All my best.