KERSHAW, S.C. (WJZY) – It was one of those services that could bring you to tears.
Thirty-eight inmates at the Kershaw Correctional Institutional facility in Lancaster County changed their lives during a baptism service with Elevation Church.
“Good programming is good discipline. It’s good security. So you see a good side of that; guys whose lives are changed,” Second Chaplain Gerald “Gerry” Pakota said.
He has been a part of these services for 15 years.
“We do everything from how to be a better dad, a better husband, a better citizen, how to think differently, and how to reduce their criminal thinking,” Pakota continued. “The more they do that here, the more they do that when they go home too.”
The program allows inmates to attend weekly services on Monday hosted by the Blakeney campus of Elevation Church. The services enable the inmates to have individual time, prayer time, and the opportunity to listen to the pastor preach.
Pakota said the music and sermons bring hope for a changed life.
“I wanted to really feel that recommitment to God,” South Carolina Department of Corrections Inmate Chris, who has been in the prison system for seven years, said.
He said the program helped him make the decision not to come back. It’s also one of the reasons he decided to get baptized.
“I’ve been reading through Ephesians as my memory verse this week and just thinking about that redemption,” he said. “Thinking about that physical aspect of being baptized, going under with the death of Christ and being back brought up a new man and just really knowing I am renewed, I am redeemed.”
Before the baptism, inmates went through their regular Monday worship service, complete with a short sermon about Elijah.
On Tuesday, the inmates will enroll in a discipleship program called ‘misfits’ that will follow up with them each week as they pursue their life of following Christ and help them along their journey.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to know that there’s that kind of love because I can’t forgive myself at times for things I’ve done; I struggle with that,” Chris said. “But knowing that, no matter what I’ve done, he does forgive, and he has cast my sins as far as the east is from the west, it’s an overwhelming feeling for me.”
Program operators said they have an extensive waitlist to get into the Elevation service program because of its impact, and other inmates have noticed changes in their peers.
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