Lead Stories
Kairos volunteers sing “This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made” and clap to welcome inmates to start of the 50th Kairos weekend at Lieber Correctional Institute, a maximum-security prison in Ridgeville, S.C.
The Post and Courier
Kairos volunteers sing “This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made” and clap to welcome inmates to start of the 50th Kairos weekend at Lieber Correctional Institute, a maximum-security prison in Ridgeville, S.C.

Kairos ministry seeks the lost at Lieber prison

Amy Writing Awards | Our fifth prize award winner

Jennifer Berry Hawes won fifth prize and $2,000 in the 2013 Amy Writing Awards, which recognizes Bible-based articles that appear in secular publications. (Read a selection of this year’s winning articles, which will be posted online through Tuesday, May 13.) For more information about entering this year’s competition, please visit the Amy Writing Awards section of the WORLD website.

The following article originally appeared in The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier on Oct. 6, 2013.

When the men arrive, darkness cloaks the parking lot at Lieber Correctional Institution, home to hundreds of inmates condemned to death or life behind the razor wire for the horrible crimes they committed.

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The 65 volunteers line up single file beneath the silvery glow of a full moon awaiting their turns to be scrutinized by the Ridgeville prison’s security guards. Some quietly sip coffee. Others greet old buddies. A few pray.

Two of them used to worship together at a Summerville church until theological disputes split the congregation. They greet each other warmly, differences aside, united this predawn hour to spread Jesus’ core teaching of forgiveness.

They, like their Christian brethren, believe that Jesus was killed as a sacrifice that opened the doors of salvation to all, even the most heinous of sinners. Even murderers and child molesters and rapists—if they truly repent. If they believe in him.

These volunteers comprise the 50th Kairos Prison Ministry International group to enter Lieber’s towering gates to serve what Jesus called “the least among us.” An ecumenical lot, some have volunteered with Kairos for all the 25 years it has been allowed inside the prison.

“We are fishers of men,” says volunteer Billy Gaines, a past state Kairos chairman and member of John Wesley United Methodist in West Ashley.

They are about to fish from 42 inmates taking part in this Kairos weekend.

A few will taste freedom again. Some are model prisoners; others are gang leaders.

Sugar and song

At 7 a.m. sharp, the Rev. James Cuttino steps from the prison’s chapel, a simple vinyl-sided building built by volunteers, to count the inmates he chose to take part in this three-day Kairos weekend.

A tall man with a commanding voice, Senior Chaplain Cuttino coordinates the prison’s diverse religious offerings and its roughly 200 volunteers. He shows the inmates where to stand.

In identical tan jumpsuits with SCDC emblazoned across their backs, the inmates converge on a patch of grass as the sun rises.

Most are young or middle-age with shaved heads or buzz cuts. Two look withered with age. One wears a bright pink jumpsuit, public notice that he committed a sexual offense while here.

About 1,450 inmates are housed at Lieber. They have become numbers, lost and largely forgotten except by those whose lives they left in ruins.

When the count ends, they file into the white chapel toward the sanctuary doors.

The Kairos men are lined up inside to greet them. They begin to sing and clap in time, their deep voices filling the room with a burst of joy that at first seems completely out of place.

This is the day. This is the day that Lord has made!

The volunteers, clergy and laity of all stripes, smile and greet the inmates with song and handshakes. Several reach out to hug the man in pink. Because here, for now, for this one weekend, these inmates are not society’s scourge.

They are not forgotten.
They may even be forgiven.

At first, the inmates look wary as they enter the row of singing men. But then some smile. A few grin wide and sing along. They accept the offered hugs.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It’s a strange moment, one of contrasts, in this realm of rules and locks and steel. Most of the inmates have not been embraced, not in a gracious and gentle manner, in a very, very long time.

Inside the chapel, beneath florescent lights, the volunteers and inmates all head for round tables laden with sugary drinks and homemade cookies.

Sure, the Kairos men wish these inmates came solely to receive their message of salvation. But in reality, many come just for the 7,000 dozen homemade cookies Kairos always brings.

Then again, if fishing for these souls requires the bait of sugar and flour, so be it.

No one refused

Up front, a large wood cross and a picture with the word FORGIVEN greet the inmates.

Frank Sanders, an Anglican priest with thick grey hair and a shirt that matches the prison jumpsuits, offers a sermon to start things off.


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