Former BDCC inmate returns to help others
It's easy to know when Tuesday rolls around at Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center, because every week on that day Mario Patterson will be sitting at a table in one of the visitation rooms.
Until July 16, 2011 he might have been sitting there waiting to see friends, family or perhaps his attorney. Now he is there to counsel inmates on how to handle life on the inside and transition to life on the outside through the Word of God.
"They need to hear about Jesus on the inside," Patterson said, "so that they can get it from the inside and take it back to the outside just like I did.
"You know, you have your own way of thinking about what goes on in life. Some people get it, and some don't. That's why we are here, so they can get it. So they can get the real meaning of what God wants and what God's purpose is for our lives."
Patterson said that because he was in BDCC for many years, he already knows many of the inmates and, more importantly, they know him. He believes he is in a unique position to help.
"They got to know me pretty well," he said. "I can show them the same person I was in here, out there. They can hear about it from out there and they can see it in here.
"I just try to motivate them like that and tell them the truth about it. Because there's no need for me to come and try to lie to anybody when they already know the truth about me."
In 2002, Patterson began serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit burglary. He spent two years in the courthouse jail downtown and then was transferred to BDCC in November 2004.
Patterson said he remembers the exact point where his life turned around.
"I'll never forget it," he said. "It was in September, 2006. I was really tired of sounding like everybody else, you know, with the cussing and the fussing and the fighting through the bars.
"So I was like, I'm through, I'm done, I'm tired. I can't keep living the way I'm living," he continued. "I've lived four consecutive years in prison and nothing has changed yet."
This prompted Patterson to listen more closely to the things he had been told earlier in life.
"Momma used to tell me about the Bible," he said. "And I read the scripture in Hebrews chapter 11, verse one, 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.'
"I never knew what it was until I looked up every word in the verse," Patterson continued. "And I just started believing in things I couldn't see. I couldn't see me not cussing, I couldn't see me not smoking, I couldn't see me not fussing and fighting with someone next door. But then I started to believe that I could do it, you know. And I started to do it."
He then enrolled in every Bible study class he could find, and began looking for a path to follow.
"I stopped playing the blame game, blaming everybody for me getting here," Patterson said. "I started thinking, if I got myself here then I can get myself out.
"Sometimes that truth isn't really what people want to hear. I didn't want to hear it either. I didn't want to hear that I was the problem, that I was the real reason I was in jail."
That realization is what Patterson credits with turning himself around, and he credits that realization to God.
He then began to try to work for good in the prison. Trying to help his fellow inmates find the truth he had found. He continues that work now in his one-on-one sessions with the inmates.
While at BDCC, Patterson was also heavily involved in the building of BDCC's chapel. He said he was working in the wood shop and helped with the entire process.
"I participated from the beginning to the end," he said. "My hand was on the concrete, my hand was on the wall, my hand was all over the chapel. From the foundation being laid to the last tresses in the rooftop, I was there.
"As a matter of fact, I put a little Bible under the stage. We wrote Bible verses on the wall, on the inside before the drywall was even put up. There's verses all the way around it."
Now, Patterson works at First Baptist in Haughton as a custodian. He is working through all the paperwork so he can get back into college and get a degree.
He is planning for his masters and would like to be a counselor full time.
"I'm really thankful that God allowed this to happen for me. I wouldn't take this experience back," Patterson said. "I mean, I didn't want to come to jail, don't get me wrong. But while I was in here I learned a lot.
"I feel real confident in Jesus right now. I recommend him to any lost soul."