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NEWS FEATURE: T.D. Jakes takes his ministry, message to the prisons

c. 1999 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ With an estimated 150,000 inmates watching from behind the secured walls of 120 prisons across the nation, Bishop T.D. Jakes seemed determined to deliver a message of survival that would set their souls free.”For those of you behind prison walls tonight, you may feel cursed, you may be […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ With an estimated 150,000 inmates watching from behind the secured walls of 120 prisons across the nation, Bishop T.D. Jakes seemed determined to deliver a message of survival that would set their souls free.”For those of you behind prison walls tonight, you may feel cursed, you may be depressed, you could have been dead tonight, but I came to serve notice that you survived,”Jakes shouted.”You survived.” Going live, using two-way audio and video links, the fiery evangelist prayed for, preached to, and pleaded with inmates at three maximum-security prisons _ the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, Texas; Northeast Ohio Correctional Unit in Youngstown, Ohio; and California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, Calif. _ during his”Manpower”conference here Sept. 9-11, at the MCI Center. Prisoners at more than 100 other facilities watched through a one-way connection.

Promptly an hour into the spirit-filled service, a hush of anticipation hovered over the 16,000 men in the sports arena as they waited for the other men to arrive via satellite.

From high above the stage on giant scoreboard screens, images of the jubilant faces and recklessly waving arms appeared, along with the sounds of cheering and hand-clapping inmates. Simultaneous hallelujahs and exuberant cheers rose up from the stands and those staring back at the uniform-clad men in Youngstown, Gatesville and Norco.

Throughout the nearly four-hour service, video cameras perched on long-necked cranes and dollies panned the downtown arena filled largely with African-American men dressed in crisp business suits, jeans and T-shirts that read”I’m a Survivor.”These were the images that entered the prison walls.

The interactive satellite link with the three maximum-security prisons is the latest phase of Jakes’ burgeoning national ministry known for its message of healing.

Jakes says his prison ministry, which took shape last April when inmates at Louisiana’s infamous Angola Prison received the first satellite dishes and receivers,”leads a cutting-edge transition toward human restoration and away from singular retribution in the country’s prisons.””My prayer is that the men attending the conference will inspire incarcerated men, who are joining us by satellite,”said Jakes as he glanced back and forth at the men in front of him and behind him on the big screen.”Tell those men (in prison) that they will never be the same, that there are men praying for them here, and that they have not been forgotten,”Jakes commanded from the stage.

While distance and circumstance clearly separated his two audiences, Jakes used the forum to promote a message of unity and empowerment among the men.”There is one common denominator between these two groups _ mutual dependency on God’s divine intervention and guidance through the current tempestuous times that have riveted our nation in recent headlines,”Jakes proclaimed.

While the conference linked the prisoners to Jakes’ ministry for a few hours, ministry officials hope to be connected more often via regular satellite operations.

The equipment provided by Jakes’ ministry at no cost to state prisons will allow inmates to view religious, educational and rehabilitational programs, said the Rev. George Fitzgerald, director of the national prison outreach program and an ex-convict.”The men who are watching the service … will go back to their cells; some will repent and some will be converted,”said Fitzgerald who spent years incarcerated on forgery charges and addicted to drugs and alcohol.”After that they will also need to be transformed.” The ministry will soon launch a curriculum it created to meet the special basic educational needs of inmates, many of whom enter prison illiterate or with little formal education.

Cubby Munerlyn, a correctional counselor at the California Institution for Women in Frontera, Calif., worked with Fitzgerald to bring Jakes’ popular”Woman, Thou Art Loosed,”conference via satellite to his female inmates a year ago.”Woman, Thou Art Loosed,”the female counterpart to the Manpower Conference,”offers a message that the inmates needed to hear,”says Munerlyn.”Bishop Jakes deals with some very deep-seated issues that women in prison are wrestling with _ molestation, abuse, self-esteem,”adds Munerlyn who has attended five of the seven Manpower conferences.

Fitzgerald said contracts are being negotiated with state correction officials in several other states including Georgia and Alabama.

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John Shaver, deputy commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, said at least 15 satellites will be set up throughout the state.”It’s just another rehabilitative tool,”said Shaver, who is based in Montgomery.

Scott Stallings, director of public affairs at the Georgia Department of Corrections, said negotiations continue with Jakes’ ministry because”we realize inmates can benefit from this.” Spreading the gospel via satellite costs the ministry about $145,000 per prison, Fitzgerald said. The live interactive portion of the Manpower service here cost an estimated $70,000 to uplink, he said.

While providing the satellite and equipment comes at no cost to the state prison system, Fitzgerald said gaining permission to provide the service”can be a sensitive operation.”Negotiating contracts with state correction facilities usually means submitting a proposal followed by meetings with high-level state officials such as prison commissioners.

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The Potter’s House, Jakes’ Dallas-based church, has launched a national Adopt-A-Prison campaign that includes volunteering and mentoring activities with inmates and promotes fund raising for the satellite ministry. His congregation has also rallied financial support from churches, individuals and organizations in Louisiana and several other states to purchase, transport, install, and maintain the state’s satellite equipment.

DEA END HAWKINS