Christian ministries have a long history of ministering in our prison systems.
Pastors, chaplains, and regular congregation members hold Bible studies and worship services for those behind bars.
The hope is always to lead more inmates to Christ and advocate for their spiritual wellness and redemption.
But that’s becoming an unpopular ideal in today’s culture, as one ministry volunteer recently discovered.
Bryan Shaver, a Christian and businessman in Mississippi, spent much of his spare time volunteering at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi.
He was committed to ministering to inmates according to his Christian faith.
Because he was a religious volunteer, Shaver had a “white card” that granted him access to areas throughout the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) system.
As a Christian and a ministry volunteer, Shaver considered it his duty to advocate for prisoners’ mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. So when he learned of the deplorable conditions in Unit 29 of the State Penitentiary, he knew he had to speak up.
Shaver learned that the water had been turned off in Unit 29, and as a result, inmates had to relieve themselves on the floor instead of in bathrooms.
These conditions made the unit hot, smelly, and messy.
“The water in [the] Parchman [facility] is not the best in the first place but… when I saw firsthand what it was like in Parchman, I was stunned,” he said.
“They’re spraying water with spray bottles on the concrete floors in their cells just to keep cool… It’s horrendous, absolutely horrendous that they should be treated this way.”
Shaver immediately stepped into action, making phone calls to try and secure better conditions for the inmates he knew and had visited in the past. But prison system officials denied that anything was amiss inside the unit, stonewalling Shaver’s attempts to get help.
And the next day, Shaver faced the consequences for trying to speak-up.
Someone from the prison ministry called to let Shaver know that his white card had been revoked.
According to the prison staff, “Bryan Shaver [had] been banned from all MDOC institutions.”
Shaver had always been a model volunteer, so the meaning here was clear: by advocating for the prisoners, he had crossed a line.
“At first, I thought whoop-de-doo, you’re not going to stop me,” said Shaver. He didn’t think the MDOC officials had a right to stop him from performing his ministry when he only made a logical protest.
“This comes from a Republican. I’m not some crazy nutcase… These are human beings, no matter what they’ve done,” argued Shaver.
Standing up for what’s right was the Christian thing to do in these circumstances, and Shaver believes this is exactly why the Department of Corrections revoked his white card.
Grace Fisher, an MDOC spokesperson, confirmed as much in an emailed response, writing, “Mr. Shaver’s service as a religious volunteer in the prison system is no longer needed.”
She claimed that she was “unable to detail the reason” for MDOC’s ban on Shaver.
The revoking of his white card was pure “retaliation,” according to Shaver – although others in the prison ministry weren’t so surprised by this turn of events.
Paul Morris, a fellow ministry volunteer who introduced Shaver to the prison ministry program, said he was “not at all” surprised by the sudden and complete ban on Shaver’s volunteering activities.
“We are guests at the warden’s house so we have to abide by their rules,” Morris told Shaver.
“That’s one of the results. If you say anything, yes, your privilege to visit the facility gets revoked. That is just a standard deal.”
Morris’s sentiments were echoed by Bill Kinkaide, the chairman of the House Corrections Committee in Mississippi.
Kinkaide noted that people like Shaver are merely “there to minister” and said that talking about what goes on inside the prison poses a “security risk.”
But Kinkaide also admitted that a complete ban on a volunteer like Shaver was too strong of a reaction. “I’m going to do the right thing,” Kinkaide said, “and it’s never going to be to restrict clergy.”
Pray that Bryan Shaver gets his white card back so he can continue a vital prison ministry!