Stillwater News Press

December 29, 2013

Christian women go to jail to share the power of prayer

By Elizabeth Keys
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — “I was in prison and you visited me . . .” Matthew 25:36

These simple words from the Bible have sparked several organizations to form prison ministries with one group of prayer warriors seeing lives changing because of their grassroots efforts.

“One women from our prayer group this fall was released from the jail and has a job. She’s trying to turn her life around,” said Pam Reding who leads a weekly program at the Payne County Jail. “Another has moved to a half-way house and she is using the prayer skills we focused on in jail to help her cope with situations that get thrown at you daily.”

Reding said Jesus came to offer hope to those who are hurting and her group uses Christian teachings to uplift the women incarcerated in Stillwater.

“Seeing the transformations — it’s huge,” Reding said. “The Bible tells us to reach out to those less fortunate — and we are gripping hands with these women and praying for them and their children.”

With Oklahoma imprisoning more women per capita than any other state, the repercussions are felt throughout the community with many children affected, she said.

“We are trying to empower these women through prayer, giving them strength to lift up their children and help them know we care about their families,” Reding said.  

For many of the women she has encountered in prison “no one ever told them that they are worthy, significant and beautiful.” The prayer group focuses on letting the women know they have value so they can get out of bad or abusive situations which often prevent reform.

“Sometimes it’s just a cycle so we are teaching them some tools to cope and make choices that will keep them out of prison,” Reding said.

There is no specific doctrine or ministry philosophy employed in the group with diverse individuals participating from college students to stay-at-home moms to single working mothers taking off on their lunch break to pray.

“Our focus is on praying with the ladies for their children and/or their grandchildren,” Reding said.

Sherrye Veselak and her sister, Simone Eatmon, have been part of the weekly team.

“We don’t want them to think their life is over,” Veselak said.

Prisoners choose whether they want to come to the group or not.  During the meeting, all prayer and participation is voluntary.

Oklahoma State University student Blythe Westfall often visits with her guitar, leading praise and worship songs from hymns to contemporary Christian tunes. She said many of the prisoners express great appreciation for the weekly visits.

“We’re making a positive impact — changing lives,” said team member Angel Rogers, a stay-at-home mom who strives to encourage the incarcerated women to prayer for their children.

Eatmon has been part of the group in Stillwater while her husband is an Army staff sergeant deployed to Korea — but she will soon join him in Fort Riley, Kan.

“The jail prayer team has planted a seed that will move on with me,” Eatmon said.

Payne County Jail Administrator Reese Lane said several ministry groups visit the prisoners with the Rev. Calvin Miller at Mt. Zion Baptist Church being a leader with the male prisoners. All volunteers must be screened and go through training preparations before interacting with any prisoners. Lane said the ministries offer a reason to look to the future which can be bright — but he encourages everyone to be truthful about their struggles.

“The ministry visitors offer the prisoner someone to talk to and they can open up a little more sometimes than with someone in a uniform,” Lane said. “It’s all volunteer though — sometimes people have to really hit the bottom and the bottom is being incarcerated but they won’t talk about it with anyone in uniform — so these visits benefit the prisoner and the staff, too. Sometimes it’s a way to vent to help them get back on the right track.”

Lane said most people think of jail as punitive but “we try to give them tools to better their lives and get out of here — and stay out of here.”

The ministry programs don’t cost the county any money and can sometimes help the inmates with coping skills, he said. He said Payne County Sheriff R.B. Hauf is supportive of programs to make things better for the inmates.

Prayer warriors interested in joining the women’s prison ministry team for an hour in weekly worship, should contact misspamred@gmail.com.