The scene is one familiar to Christians. A pastor stands next to a man partially submerged in water. With “Amazing Grace” playing in the background, the preacher intones, “As a confession [sic] of your faith that Jesus Christ is head of your life… I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The man is tilted back into the pool, and arises to new life and the applause of those gathered for the ceremony.
The setting for this baptism, however, is unique.
The baptisms in this case are taking place at the high security unit at the W. J. Estelle High Security Unit in Huntsville, Texas. The rendition of “Amazing Grace” is being played on harmonica, and the minister performing the rite is currently serving a 40-year sentence for attempted murder. Those awaiting to be baptized are shackled hand and foot, and are accompanied by several guards with pepper spray and body armor.
“This is my happiest day,” says Davey Enriquez, a former gang member who is serving a 99-year sentence for committing home invasion robberies. “I talked to my mom for the first time in six years a few days ago, but I didn’t tell her about this. She’s going to be real surprised.”
The baptisms, as well as the in-prison seminary program that prepared “field minister” Michael Townsend to perform the actual baptisms, is a part of a five-year campaign to re-introduce religion into some of the toughest facilities in Texas.
“What I am witnessing here is amazing,” says state Sen. John Whitmire, who, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, helped to initiate the in-prison seminary program. “We are seeing the Lord at work, changing hearts and lives. This goes to show what can happen when you give people another chance.”
“The field ministers have made a big difference here in a very short period of time, not just in high-security but in the general population at Estelle,” concurs Rich Pritchard, a volunteer chaplain at the facility. “I never thought I’d see this in a Texas prison. But it’s all God, and miracles do happen, you know.”
Indeed, miracles do happen—even in high-security lockup. Where the Spirit is present, there is always hope for transformation.
Prison Fellowship seeks to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of prison, offering men and women behind bars the opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation. Through in-prison evangelistic events, Bible studies, and reentry classes, Prison Fellowship seeks to provide prisoners with a hope and peace that transcends prison—one that offers new life.
To learn more about the work Prison Fellowship is doing in prisons around the country, and how you can get involved, click here.