By Philip Timothy, Message Staff Writer
ANGOLA – For prisoners and volunteers alike, this year’s annual Angola Prison Revival proved to be a life-changing experience.
Thurman Bell believes it changed his life.
Pastor E.J. Scott knows it changed his.
Together the pair joined 175 other volunteers who participated May 21-22 in the annual evangelistic event at what was once called “the worst prison in America” – Angola State
While it is still a very dangerous place, the prison has definitely undergone a transformation under the skillful guidance of Warden Burl Cain.
“Warden Cain has played a huge role in helping revival come to the prison,” LBC Evangelism Church Growth Director Wayne Jenkins said.
“There is no question God has placed him there to throw open the doors.” Jenkins said there were 144 decisions during the two-day revival.
There’s no question God played a role in bringing Bell to the prison for the first time.
“I’m not going to lie; I was nervous, especially, when I went through the main gate and it closed behind me,” Bell said. “The reality set in when I saw a prisoner shuffling past me with his arms and legs shackled.
“But a calmness came over me when I realized I was there to do God’s work,” Bell continued. “As I thought about it, I realized I could have very easily been one of these
guys had it not been for Jesus Christ making a difference in my life.”
Bell, a lay preacher, had the opportunity to present the Word of God to prisoners in Camp J, one of five locations where the revival took place.
“I enjoyed preaching the Gospel to them because they were so open to hearing the Word. You could see the Lord working in that prison,” Bell said. “I didn’t think I would get a lot of ‘Amens’ as I spoke, but I was surprised at how many I got.
“These men are criminals but they had a faith in God, and they were sincere about their faith. After I spoke and gave the invitation I noticed a prisoner in the back. After I turned it back to Keith [LBC Evangelism Associate Keith Manuel], I went to him. He broke into tears and asked me to pray with him which I did.
We spoke for a few minutes. He shook my hand, thanked me, and asked if I would be
back next year.”
The question made Bell stop and think.
“It made me realize that when everything is done, we can go home but those prisoners
have to go back to their cells. It made me realize what a privilege it was for them to come out and worship with us,” Bell said.
An illness in the family prevented Bell from staying over to Saturday but his short time there left an indelible impression on him.
“The experience was a blessing to my life,” Bell said.
“It definitely made an impact on my life. It changed my life. It made me stronger in my
Like Bell, Scott, pastor of Temple of New Life Baptist Church in New Orleans, was blessed by his experience there, and reminded about God’s grace and goodness.
“I know of pastors who minister here who literally are afraid to go into the prison.They become physically ill,” Scott said. “Once they get in here and realize they are serving the Lord their perception changes, and their lives are impacted.”
A veteran of prison ministry, Scott says the reaction is understandable. Yet, as experienced as he is, even he felt a little trepidation this year. “When I went into the cell block, it was sort of horrifying,” Scott said, “because, you see, I actually did spend time here. The sound of those cell doors closing behind me brought back a lot of memories.
I paused for a moment and thanked God for saving me and allowing me to be who I am today.”
First in 1971, and again in 1974, Scott was an inmate at Angola. “After being released in 1972, I went back a second time in 1974 and was there until 1984 when then Gov. Edwin Edwards commuted my sentence and gave me a full pardon,” Scott said.
In 1979, while at the Hunt Correctional Center, Scott got saved. “When I got saved, the
Lord told me to preach,” Scott said. “I said, ‘No way, Lord.’ God, though, said I needed to submit to His will, and I finally gave in.”
Therefore, Scott was glad he participated in the revival. “You know, the following week after I returned from the revival I had people tell me that I had moved to another level. They told me they noticed a difference in me.
“You cannot go and not be impacted – ‘If not for the grace of God, there go I,’”
Scott quoted an oft-used saying. “God changed my life, just as I know He is changing
the lives of those prisoners.”
“There are a lot of prisons and facilities throughout this state,” Jenkins said. “While Texas incarcerates more people, Louisiana incarcerates more people per captia. A lot of these inmates have not had a visitor in years, and it means a lot to them. You can really see it in their expressions and their responsiveness.
“This year, I stopped and spoke with an inmate. I shared the Gospel with him and shook his hand,” Jenkins said. “The inmate chaplain said he hadn’t stopped and spoken with anyone in a long time. I believe the reason he stopped was because someone from the outside took time to show some interest in him.
“Who knows that chance meeting may have been the life-changing moment he needed,” Jenkins said. “That’s what we are there for.”