Minden Press-Herald

Tuesday
Sep 30th

A prayer answered

Baptistery

Bayou Dorcheat Correction Center Warden John Lewis had a prayer.

In November, 2010 that prayer was answered when the new, almost 200-seat chapel he envisioned for his inmates was completed.

"They said it was going to take three months to do it and instead it took less than two months," Lewis said.

It was just prior to Thanksgiving (2010) when the doors opened.

"We had a revival service, and I remember there were 56 people saved during that time," Lewis said. "We baptized 56 people the day after Christmas. We've baptized 11 so far this year. There are probably five or six each month that get baptized."

Even before the new chapel, Lewis' vision was that the Word of God could help rehabilitate his inmates and connect them to a world outside of crime.

With the new building, he has been able to move that ministry out of the facility's spartan 88-seat cafeteria to the larger and more comfortable chapel, which was built by Louisiana Baptist Builders with all donated materials and labor.

"It didn't cost the taxpayers a single dollar," Lewis said. "First Baptist of Arcadia and First Baptist of Haughton were my main contributors. First Baptist of Minden and many other people came in behind with sound equipment and other things.

"Every bit of it was supplied by God," he continued. "The portable baptistery – even the guitars, keyboards – all that stuff was given to us."

The chapel offers inmates 17 different programs each week, including religious services, addiction counseling and recovery support, anger management, parenting and one-on-one sessions with ministers.

Special events are sometimes held in the chapel when the opportunity arises. Christian music, blue grass music and numerous speakers and ministers are some of the visitors that have shared their faith with the inmates at the chapel.

Inmate participation is encouraged, but entirely voluntary. Lewis has worked hard to provide a ministry for those who want it, and the chapel fills up regularly.

He said he hopes that inmates who accept a new life in the Word will help others who may be straying from the path.

"I have a minister who has just started, and his ministry is to help these prisoners once they get out of prison," Lewis said. "Finding places to live, churches to get plugged in to – helping them outside the barbed gates.

"I'd like for them to put me out of a job," he said.

After having spent time in different facilities, inmate Dale Argo can speak personally to the effects of Lewis' work.

"None of this would have been possible if it weren't for him," he said. "I've been other places and they just didn't care. Sure, they had churches, you know, but it's not like what he does.

"He puts extra into it," Argo continued. "He makes sure everybody has a Bible, makes sure everybody is taken care of."

Argo said Lewis does a lot of things people don't see.

"Like he'll be here late at night working on revivals and things like that for us," he said. "The church changes you, it really does. When I didn't go to church, I'd do (bad) things and I never did think about it. But church changes you."

Argo is currently caretaker of the chapel, cleaning and making sure everything is in order for the various programs.

"I take care of it," he said. "I do paperwork. I get it ready for baptisms, graduations, concerts ... stuff like that."

Argo said most of the inmates enjoy the services, and the new chapel's larger size, greater comfort and more peaceful setting helps.

"There's a big difference in people's attitudes," he said. "It's not like going to church in the kitchen. Most of the guys in here look forward to the services."

Lewis tells a story to illustrate the effect of the new chapel on the inmates.

"We were having a revival here," he said. "It was about 10 or 11 o'clock ... it was late.

"As a guard, you listen to noises. I was coming down the hallway and I heard this noise going in the C dorm, and my first reaction was 'I got a fight. Right after a revival, we got a fight in there,'" Lewis said.

"When I went over there and looked, I had a hundred inmates over there that had just gotten through praying and were hopping, hollering and hugging each other. I've been in the guard business for 26 years, and I have never seen that. An entire dorm, people just running up there and just hugging each other.

"We're having a disturbance, but it's a good one. So let it go ahead."

(Editor's note: Read about former inmate Mario Patterson and his new ministry in Friday's Minden Press-Herald.)

 

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