By Tammy Sharp, Special to the Message
[img_assist|nid=7709|title=Morris Goins|desc=Pastor Morris Goins encourages prison ministry volunteers to hang onto a manual published by the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety on visiting the imprisoned.|link=none|align=right|width=425|height=640]LEESVILLE – The Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety has published a manual just for those who make it their mission to visit the imprisoned, said Pastor Morris Goins, who has been ministering to offenders at the Vernon Parish Jail and the Vernon Correctional Facility since 1981. That’s when he became the chaplain for both facilities.
Goins encourages would-be prison ministry volunteers to keep that manual handy; memorize it if possible. An annual orientation provides him opportunity to share with volunteers wisdom from the manual and from his years of experience.
“I suppose the most important thing is to become a friend to these guys and gals without them taking advantage of us,” said Goins. Some of the offenders try to convince volunteers to do things better left to an attorney. Others might try to run a con.
Being fingerprinted and submitting to background checks are requirements for all volunteers.
Not everyone qualifies.
Convicted felons are immediately disqualified, while those who do not have a recommendation from their pastor are rarely accepted.
Volunteers should be wary of the possibility that offenders might try to take advantage of them, said Goins, but being loyal and faithful to their commitment to come in and minister is extremely important.
Goins encourages male volunteers to accept physical contact from the offenders.
“Don’t get afraid if one wants to hug you,” he said he tells his volunteers. “That’s one of their great expressions of feeling accepted by you, if you exchange that hug with them. Be a friend to them. Listen to what they have to say. They want to talk to somebody from the outside.
“You may not be able to do anything they ask you to or want you to, but you can be faithful and be a friend to them,” he said.
Orientation also contains practical guidelines.
Volunteers can bring no weapons of any kind to the facilities. A wallet and keys are permissible, but women should leave their purses behind, said Goins.
Another safety rule is for volunteers to stay in the chapel until all of the offenders, except the chapel orderly, have left the building.
Orientation also contains success stories from Goins’ own ministry.
A favorite is of the man whom Goins baptized, saw released and who continued to rely on God, even in his darkest hour.
Despite the difficulty in finding a job presented by his felon’s record, the man held on despite temptation. Eventually, through God’s people, he found a job that led to a rewarding and prosperous career, a fact he later shared with Goins.
“The young man wept to me on the phone,” said Goins, who recalled the former offender’s words: “‘I never dreamed when I was sitting up there in that prison that I would be making $125,000 a year, but I am,’ the man told Goins. ‘You kept encouraging us to stay in church, that God will take care of us, He’ll bless us. I’d just about given up on God, when He came through.’”