By Johnny Jackson
As twilight enveloped the world outside, ministers Tim Ashley, Anson Kilgo, Donna Crumbley and Luke Edmondson, began their long walk down the dusky hallway of the jail.
Chatting along the way, each seemed prepared to deliver a powerful message he or she hoped would deliver its recipients from the behaviors, and ways of thinking, that landed them here. The ministers do this weekly at evening Bible studies, ministering to some of the more than 700 inmates housed at the Henry County Jail.
They are part of Team Jesus Ministries, Inc., a non-profit, interdenominational organization whose jail-house ministries aim to spread the word of God to inmates in weekly Bible studies and Sunday services.
"We feel like it's a great program," said Henry County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy David McCart. "It seems to be a big asset to us, to give inmates an opportunity to live better lives."
On Tuesdays, Donna Crumbley, the former president of Helping in His Name Ministries, Inc., ministers to between 40 and 60 inmates in Pod D at the jail, where she is affectionately known as Ms. Donna.
"You've got to except responsibility," Crumbley told the inmates. "The devil's aim is to kill you, and steal from you. You may have the wrong concept of God because of how your earthly father treated you."
That rang true for one inmate, who has spent a lifetime dealing with law enforcement. The 37-year-old, from Atlanta, said he returned to jail in April. Only recently, though, has he been learning more about his spirituality.
"I learned that God is a good person," the inmate said. "I plan on going to church, and being a better person."
Rev. Luke Edmondson, who founded Team Jesus Ministries, Inc., about 35 years ago, has been the Henry County's jail chaplain for the past 25 years. "The doors opened up here for me with [retired] Sheriff Donald Chaffin," Edmondson explained. "The lord closed the door on where I was ministering, at the race tracks, on weekends, around the Southeast."
Edmondson said he was inspired to minister to those seemingly most needing help understanding the Bible, and the virtuous lessons inscribed therein. "You'd be surprised how many people come into the jail that don't know anything about the Bible," he added. "The Bible says, in John 8:32, that the truth will set you free. It's our job to give them the truth ... and good news for a change."
A 25-year-old inmate, who had recognized his one-year anniversary at the jail a few weeks earlier, spoke softly about his indiscretions, but proudly about his participation in the weekly Bible studies.
"I'm trying to change my life around," he said. "It's very easy to be misguided. I was raised in the church, [but] I kind of took things on my own."
Following Bible study, this man of average build towered over Donna Crumbley, as she anointed his forehead with oil. She placed her hand on his chest, and they prayed together.
"God works miracles in bad situations, sometimes," said the young inmate from McDonough. He said he wants to be a youth and career counselor, in order to help young people make better decisions for themselves, by listening to their parents and finding decent role models and friends.
A fellow inmate, however, may have gotten the lesson much sooner -- at 17, he has been incarcerated for nearly a year. The teenager, who attends each of the hour-long Bible study meetings, said his mistakes in hanging out with, and trusting, the wrong people contributed to his wayward trek in life.
"The people I thought were my friends, really weren't ...," said the now-optimistic youth. "Whatever you're going through, put it in God's hands, and he'll always come through at the end of the day."
A Jonesboro man, who has been in the county jail for more than a year now, attends the weekly Bible studies and Sunday services at the jail. "It helps keep me sane," explained the 35-year-old. "I never really paid attention to it before Ms. Donna came. She's like our mother, here."
He said he is hopeful his own 17-year-old daughter can lead a better life than his. He said he last saw her in early August, during one of her monthly visits.
"I try to tell her not to follow in the footsteps that I did, and choose good friends -- those who are active in church," he said. "I hope the best for her."