Did you know that Virginia’s state correctional facility come in ALL SIZES??? Well, it’s true. There are HUGE facilities that are “packed to the gills” with incarcerated men or women. There is the “super-sized” (three-prisons-in-one complex) Greensville Correctional Center that houses nearly 3,000 inmates at a time! Large prisons like Augusta Correctional Center and Nottoway Correctional Center both hover around nearly 1,400 inmates at any given time! There are medium-sized facilities like Baskerville Correctional Center and the Virginia Correctional Center for Women – prisons that house say between 300 to 600 inmates at a time.
But did you know that in Virginia we also have some very small prisons? These are the Correctional Units and Work Centers. Most of them are smaller, older facilities that often resemble a JAIL more than a state prison. How did these small correctional facilities come to exist and what are they used for. Well, historically, the Commonwealth had a number of “portable” or “movable” small units that were at first called “Stick Camps.” They were so named because they would be set up in one area (with temporary living quarters) for a brief time and then MOVED to another area nearby. Generally, inmates housed in these portable “stick camps” were assigned to outside work duties (working on highways, clearing forests, helping to drain swamps, digging tunnels for mountain railroads, etc.). There were numerous such prison camps across the state – from Tidewater to far Southwest Virginia. Over time, most of the “stick camps” finally settled on one property and built permanent buildings, fences, towers, etc. Many were next door to or near the major prisons. For many years, they were referred to as “Field Units.” Field units generally housed lower security inmates (or inmates that were soon to leave the system). Sometimes inmates housed in these units continued to do outdoor work assignments, but not always. Many Field Units gained the reputation of simply being large old dorm-style buildings with little space for programs or activities, with inmates mainly lying in their bunks most of the day with little to do. In more recent years, the state built some newer small facilities specifically designed to be used as “Work Centers” (centers from which inmates would be sent to outside work assignments or even to work release jobs in the “outside world”).
Today there are only about 14 such small correctional units still in use (again, with many/most being under the “umbrella” of a larger facility). As far as educational programs, vocational programs, treatment programs and religious programs/services, these facilities are still somewhat on the “dead” side. They generally only house 50-80 inmates, have small numbers of correctional staff, and have very little room for programs of any kind. Often a dining room also serves as a visitation and “programs” area/room. For many years in our recent history, GraceInside only served the large and medium correctional facilities. There were NO Chaplains in the Correctional Units or the Work Centers. This was generally due to lack of funding (on both the DOC side and on our side), as well as lack of programming space.
Well recently (in fact effective on July 1st, 2021), all of that CHANGED! You see, the courts were becoming much stricter with both the federal and state correctional systems in regards to providing equal access to religious programs and services for inmates at ALL correctional facilities (regardless of size, cost, space consideration, etc.) This meant that the DOC was going to have to put at least a minimal level of CHAPLAINCY at the Correctional Units and Work Centers. Thus, our contract with the DOC was modified in the middle of last year, and suddenly GraceInside expanded its reach and placed Chaplains at these smaller correctional facilities. This took some creative staffing, including adding extra hours for some of our part-time Chaplains at the major facilities so they could also cover a nearby Correctional Unit or Field Unit. We are of course EXCITED about this development. We now have 33 Chaplains serving at ALL 42 state correctional facilities and ministering to approximately 24,000 inmates! What amazing new opportunities God has given us!!!
In our “staffing creativity”, we also called on a couple of our RETIRED Chaplains, asking them if they would consider returning to help us out by serving only limited hours at a Correctional Unit or Work Center. A few enthusiastically answered the call to return to our ministry and to take on this new challenge (creating chaplaincy within smaller units). This is STILL a work in progress. We are still working with the DOC to figure out things like office space for the Chaplains, where to put Chaplain’s Libraries/Religious Resource Areas, where to put religious programs and how to schedule them, etc. But we are CONFIDENT that our God is up to something AMAZING. Please PRAY for our Chaplains that have taken on this new challenge of trying to “modify/fit” chaplaincy into these small correctional units, and pray that the hearts and lives of the men and women incarcerated in those units will be stirred and revived!
We would like to spotlight here one of our RETIRED CHAPLAINS that returned/came back to us to help us meet the challenge of bringing chaplaincy and ministry into the smaller correctional units. His name is Chaplain Ashton Brock. Ashton absolutely “glows” with the love of Christ. He is wonderful with inmates, staff, volunteers, etc. I wondered if I could convince him to return to GraceInside… Here are Ashton’s words:
“It has been my great honor and privilege to return to ministry with GraceInside – this time at Caroline Correctional Unit #2. After having served at a major correctional facility for a number of years (Lawrenceville Correctional Center), I had retired in early 2020, having no idea of the devastating impact that COVID-19 would have on the inmates, staff and prison ministry shortly after my departure. As the months of COVID-19 went by, I followed the new about my brother and sister Chaplains closely. I was SO proud of them for making all of the adjustments they made to continue ministering in Jesus’ name (even when for a number of months they had to telecommute and minister from a distance).
“In the late summer of 2021, I was asked our President, Randy Myers, if I might be interested in returning to serve as a Chaplain. It was NOT a hard decision. The interesting thing is that I would be going to a facility that had never had a Chaplain before. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that God was going to be with me. I am pleased to report that I have been graciously welcomed by the inmates and the staff. It is SUCH a BLESSING when these inmates thank you for caring and when you see how appreciative they are when you do your rounds. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks to us directly about visiting those in prison. And He comes right out and says it: Whatever you do for one of the “least of these” (like visiting, caring for and ministering to a prisoner), you have done it for the LORD HIMSELF!!!
“It has been said many times that chaplaincy is a ministry of presence. A smile and a listening ear go a long way. As we approach this Easter season, I pray that the God of Second Chances will continue to enable GraceInside to send Chaplains to minister in His Name behind those walls and barbed-wire fences.
May He be glorified in all that we say and do!!!
Rejoice in the Lord!
Chaplain Ashton Brock
Caroline Correctional Unit #2
Oh, how we PRAISE GOD for these called and gifted men and women like Ashton Brock that are SO dedicated to the men and women incarcerated in our correctional facilities that they will even “come out of retirement” and take on a new challenge like serving at one of these small Correctional Units.
Truly, GraceInside’s EXPANSION into the smaller correctional facilities (the Correctional Units and Work
Centers) is the beginning of something brand NEW!!! It is HISTORIC! It is truly a new day for us!
This is truly another example of our Easter Campaign theme coming to life: “REBIRTH – A Living Hope!”
Would you prayerfully consider a special Easter Offering to GraceInside to help with our newly expanded
“mission field”? Friend, YOU hold the key to helping us share this “REBIRTH – A Living Hope!”
Thank you SO, SO much!!!