There is always hope.
That is the guiding mantra of Gail Carpenter and Betsy Jones who have been working in women’s jail ministry for decades.
“You’re faith just keeps carrying you on, that maybe one of these days you won’t see the same faces,” Carpenter said.
The two are somewhat accustomed to see people return. They have even seen daughters of former inmates through their work. But they are pleased that recidivism doesn’t seem to be as bad as in years past, and they are encouraged the amazing transformations of inmates.
They have seen a methamphetamine addict start going to church and a lady who was shot by law enforcement because she was driving drunk and wouldn’t stop, give up alcohol.
“That’s one of the beauties of the whole thing, you see them later,” Jones said.
Now both give devotionals during Saturday afternoon jail church, which started in the late 1980s, but they were involved before it became formalized.
Neither one saw initially saw herself ministering to inmates, both were asked.
Carpenter was asked by a friend in at church to go see her daughter. Later, in 1973, a jailer asked Carpenter to talk with the female inmates regularly.
Over the years, Carpenter was involved as a translator, suicide prevention, and with a clothing charity that gave inmates the opportunity to order clothes by phone. She got know inmates so well she recalled: “Pretty soon they started calling me Auntie Gail.”
Five of Jones’ friends told her that she should try it out and she started working with inmates in 1987.
“It’s so gratifying to able to talk to them, listen to them and remind them not to leave it all behind, what they’ve learned in there,” Jones said.
Both are quick to laugh about minor mishaps in ministry. Carpenter, recalled with a smile, not even noticing the jailers had forgotten her for an extra hour in a cell.
For years, the two would go into the cells to meet with inmates for about an hour. Now jail church meets for 20 minutes in the gym, and Carpenter and Jones share the responsibilities with Karen Andrews and Susan Giannone.
When asked what is the most challenging part, the answer is not what one would expect.
“We don’t have enough time,” Carpenter said.
Despite having calling others might find depressing, the two have no intention of retiring.
“It’s part of us,” Carpenter said.