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Bob Lind, Published March 30 2013

Lind: Ministry gives hope, guidance to female inmates

The napkins on the tables, Karen Adams tells the women, are “crying towels.”

That’s good, one of the women tells her, because “we do a lot of crying here.”

“Here” is the Cass County Jail in Fargo. The women are inmates.

Karen, of Moorhead, represents Moms in Touch, a national Christian ministry primarily for mothers of school-age children. But it also has an outreach to women who are prison inmates.

In Fargo, it falls under the auspices of Jail Chaplains, which provides spiritual guidance and support to Cass jail inmates. About 10 to 12 percent of all the inmates are females, said Gerri Leach, executive director of Cass’ Jail Chaplains.

These women are given the opportunity to voluntarily meet for a weekly one-hour session with Karen. About 13 of them have been attending.

“They all aren’t moms,” Karen says. “And they’re all ages. We have grandmas here.”

They’re in prison for a number of reasons, such as alcohol and drug offenses, theft, violation of probation and prostitution. One woman told Karen she became a prostitute at age 16.

Needed: hope

“Ninety-five percent of the people in jail are not bad people; they are bad decision-makers” who “have gone down a wrong path and can be recovered.”

So says someone who ought to know: Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney. While speaking to a gathering of Jail Chaplains’ supporters, he added: “The majority of the people behind the walls of the jail are looking for hope, guidance and someone to be a role model to show them the way. This ministry (Jail Chaplains) does that for them.”

Moms in Touch, through Karen, is a key part of that ministry.

The sessions focus on prayer. The women spend a lot of time praying for each other, for their children and for their children’s caregivers.

“Some kids have seen police arrest their moms and take them away crying,” Karen says. “Can you imagine?”

And while crying is common, some women “are too tough to cry, and won’t,” Karen says. “But I tell them it’s OK to cry. After all, God made tears.”

Another thing: “Sometimes a woman will say she doesn’t know how to pray.

“I say, ‘You’re talking to me, aren’t you?’ ” Karen says to her.

“Yes,” the woman says.

“’Well, that’s how you talk to God,’” Karen says.

She says she’s not a theologian. All she does is share meaningful scripture with the women, such as Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

She also gives them the opportunity to confess sins and repent of them, but quietly, to nobody but God.

Both Karen and Gerri say their ministries don’t judge the inmates.

Reduce returns

The mission of Jail Chaplains, including Moms in Touch, is, in part, to share the gospel of Christ – which is especially meaningful this Easter day – to help bridge the gap between the inmates, their families and local churches and to assist them in practical ways

Gerri says she’s seen lives changed through Jail Chaplains and its various ministries.

“Of all our inmates,” she says, “97 percent stay in the community. If we can touch them, reduce their doing something to put them back in jail, that’s great. We do that by showing them Jesus and then the Holy Spirit does the rest.”

And consider this: Gerri says that because of Moms in Touch, “Some women say the best thing that ever happened to them was ending up here, in jail.”

Love those hugs

For the women, Moms in Touch is, literally, a godsend, thanks to the willingness, the heartfelt desire of Karen to help them.

It hurts her to see these women hurting. Yes, as Sheriff Laney says, they’ve made bad decisions. But Karen brings them hope and love.

She does it by listening, by praying with them – and with hugs.

“I’m a hugger,” she says. Of course, she hugs them only when jail officials are present, as per jail regulations. But when she does, she says, “Sometimes they (the hugged women) just glow. One woman told me it was the first hug she’d had in two years.”

In two years.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com