REENFIELD — Cathy Walter sat with one hand pressed over her heart. Another woman bent down by the water-filled trough and asked her if she committed to follow Jesus.
“Absolutely I do,” she said softly.
The other woman leaned her backward down into the water and back up. Some of the half-dozen people gathered applauded. The woman by the trough kissed her on the cheek. Walter climbed out, her orange shirt and pants dripping, and hugged another woman waiting her turn.
Story continues below gallery
Walter was one of nine inmates — three women, six men — baptized Sunday afternoon at Hancock County Jail. Each received a certificate to remember the milestone. They’re part of a larger group that has been baptized there in recent months, with 13 taking part two weeks ago.
The nine baptized Sunday were escorted in groups of three, according to which pod they stay in at the jail, to a lower-level garage area where the long black trough sat filled. Volunteers who visit the jail each week to minister to offenders were there to share a few Bible verses and other words of encouragement as they baptized each group.
Walter has had a spiritual background in the past, but “I backslid,” she said. “Since I’ve been in here, I’ve rededicated my life to God.”
One of her podmates, Katie Rennier, said she had been baptized before, at age 7, but wanted to get back to the Christian life she lived in years past.
“I’m just ready to renew my life with God and wash away my sins,” she said. “I don’t want to ever come back to this place again.”
Kelly Duncan, who baptized the three women, meets with female inmates on Wednesdays, rotating to different pods from week to week. She plays some Christian music and a DVD of a recent sermon from Realife Church; from there, she’s open to questions and prayer requests.
“My heart’s full when I leave there,” she said.
John Latham visits men at the jail on Sunday evenings. Like Duncan, he rotates to different pods from week to week and brings a Realife sermon DVD with him.
Each week as he begins his sermon, Realife pastor Adam Detamore looks into the camera and welcomes those who will be watching the sermon from inside the jail, and the congregation claps for them. He said he wants inmates to feel like they’re already attending church, and when they get out, he wants them to feel assured they would be welcome at church.
Detamore knows some might be skeptical or cynical about inmates interested in religion, but he’s not worried about that.
“I’d rather them get jailhouse religion than no religion,” he said. “Only God can cause that seed to grow. That’s also up to that person as to what the soil of their heart is like.
“That certainly doesn’t deter us from doing the right thing.”
Latham said he believes it’s possible for such a seed to grow; he said it’s happened in his own life. He describes his past as a rough one, in which he was hooked on meth, lost his license and spent years still driving but looking over his shoulder. He said selling drugs on an air force base landed him on the wrong side of the law.
Today he looks at a life so different from that, with a happy marriage and a new baby, and hopes to convince inmates change is possible. He has given inmates his cellphone number and tries to keep in touch after they leave the jail. He’s trying to develop a network of support, such as rides to job interviews, to help people leaving jail take steps toward a productive life.
Charles Steigerwald is open to what Latham’s saying. He’s been going to the sessions at the jail for several months now. He said from those he’s learning better ways to cope with things. He was among those baptized Sunday. “It’s just time to get my life back together,” he said.
His podmate Mike Tuttle said it’s time for him, too. Though he said he’s made a spiritual commitment in the past, by being baptized Sunday, “I’d like to renew that, show the Lord I’m real; it’s not a joke.
“I just need him.”