Incarcerated and in Christ

Incarcerated and in Christ
Incarcerated and in Christ

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Incarcerated and in Christ

Story and photos by Tom Price

COVID-19 has temporarily shut down a vibrant prison ministry out of Calvary Chapel Manasass, VA. Please pray that restrictions on visitation to the Manasass Detention Center would be lifted and that this Christ-honoring ministry would be allowed to resume.

“How many of you guys are preparing now for your walk out those jail doors?” Assistant-to-Chaplain Reggie Bembry’s voice echoed in the small rectangular common room surrounded by two-man cells. Reggie waited briefly as the 16 men gathered there contemplated his last question. “Need I remind you what is waiting for you outside those prison doors?”

The Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in Manassas, VA, houses nearly a thousand inmates in separate male and female housing units. “We know what is waiting for us,” the men interjected one by one: “Drugs,” “Money,” “Alcohol,” “Temptation,” and “The taunts of the devil will be waiting for us,” they concluded grimly. Reggie looked around the room. These men were part of the MIND program (Men In New Direction): they live in a faith-based housing unit and learn Bible-based life skills. They study the Bible and books like The Jesus Style by Gayle Erwin, describing how Jesus lived as a servant.

Assistant-to-Chaplain Reggie Bembry

Reggie teaches and disciples inmates. Church members from CC Manassas volunteer under Reggie’s direction at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in Northern Virginia.

Reggie knew that each man hoped that he would not fail once leaving the safety and structure of the faith-based group. “Men, I entered jail as a crackhead but left as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, saved by His shed blood,” Reggie said calmly. “But trust me when I tell you, when I got out of jail as a believer, temptations came from every direction. Jesus said that He would never leave you or forsake you. So His Holy Spirit is with you now and when you leave these walls. He won’t turn His back on you, so put your reliance in Him. Everyone in this room says that they are saved, but only God knows your heart. So be honest with Him.”

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30

Prison men talk

Inmates discuss their desire to please God in jail and after they are released. They admit that they will face temptations upon their release but pray for the Lord’s direction and strength to guide their walk with Him.

Later, Reggie shared that he never asks the men why they are incarcerated—especially when he is involved in one-on-one counseling. “My job is not to judge the men, but to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He believes every interaction he has with the inmates is a miracle from God. “In the very facility that once incarcerated me, the Lord has given me freedom to enter any area and to serve as a witness unto Him,” said Reggie. “I tell these guys that what God did for me, He can do for them and restore what each man has lost.”

Reggie continued, “My job is to plant and water the seeds of faith within the inmates—I can’t save anyone.” He divides his time between his duties as an assistant to the chaplain in the Manassas jail and as an assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel Manassas, VA. Manassas is located only 30 miles southwest of Washington D.C. Reggie continued, “My senior pastor, David Spear, the leadership team, and the entire CC fellowship have been incredibly supportive of this jail ministry.”

“I was in prison and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:36b

Men with Bibles

Inmates share what they learned in Bible class.

As assistant pastor, Reggie leads 10 CC Manassas volunteers in the prison ministry and helps potential volunteers understand what is required. Many catch his enthusiasm. “I never grow weary of ministering in the jail,” Reggie said. “As a matter of fact, when I finally leave the facility, I feel as though I am walking on air because I am privileged to pour into these men.” Occasionally, he might encounter someone who is bitter and resentful, but he finds that rare. “Most inmates realize that the problems in their lives are self-inflicted and want to change and are looking for direction and guidance.”

Missing Fathers

Earlier Reggie had asked how many of the inmates grew up with their father in the house. Each man stared back blankly. “How many of you even know your father?” Reggie asked. Several men raised their hands half-heartedly. Reggie explained that, while they might not have had a father to guide and direct them, they now have their heavenly Father whom they can turn to for guidance. He added that the way to understand their heavenly Father is to get to know Him through His Word.

Chaplain Ray PerezChaplain Ray Perez, the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry chaplain at the Manassas facility, feels that the lack of a good paternal influence is a major cause of inmates that continually return to jails and prisons—a phenomenon known as recidivism. Chaplain Perez has surveyed inmates during his 20-plus years in jail ministry. “I ask, ‘How many of you didn’t have a father growing up? How many had a father who was an alcoholic, drug addict, or never taught you moral truth?’ Over 90 percent of inmates that are asked these questions answer ‘yes’.” He believes that jail literally becomes dad to these inmates. “A father would normally provide food, guidance, protection, and direction; but here, the jail does that.”

Major Rod Osborne, Director of Inmate Services, believes that Christian men like Ray and Reggie also serve as important role models: “Many of the inmates don’t have any exposure to faith. The chaplaincy staff fill in that gap in the inmates’ lives as well as become their mentors.” The Major noted that when an inmate has a GED graduation (completing studies for a high-school-equivalent certificate) or another major achievement, they always give credit to the chaplaincy department for their time and guidance. Major Osborne noted, “Chaplain Perez also ministers to the entire facility—not only to inmates but the officers and support staff. He also counsels anyone in the security staff that is experiencing grief or loss.” Major Osborne has worked at the jail for almost 30 years and added, “The chaplaincy is a calling, not just a vocation, and is vital to our success.”

Jonathan Spear teaching

Jonathan Spear, son of Pastor David Spear of CC Manassas, teaches a weekly Bible study at the adult detention center.

Returning to Minister

"Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also." Hebrews 13:3

After Reggie was released from jail 20 years ago, he got involved in the ministry at CC Manassas. He never considered returning to the jail. Eventually he sensed the Lord’s urging but ignored it.

Finally visiting the jail to speak with Chaplain Perez, Reggie offered to volunteer and began delivering Bibles and materials to the inmates and helping wherever he could. Later he began leading a Bible study, which gave him a new perspective on serving the Lord when attendance was erratic. “If no one showed, I had a great opportunity to share with the correctional officer that was assigned to be with me,” laughed Reggie. “It was important that the correctional officers knew that I was there for them as well.”

Prison men pray

Inmates in one of the faith-based housing units pray after studying God’s Word with Assistant-to- Chaplain Reggie Bembry, who is also an assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel Manassas, VA.

As Reggie’s responsibilities grew, he learned that without a college degree, his ability to help the chaplain would be limited. While disappointed not to do more, he turned it over to the Lord and kept serving wherever he could. One morning, Chaplain Perez asked Reggie to follow him upstairs where the directors’ offices were located. He was asked to turn in his volunteer badge. Wondering what he had done wrong, Reggie thought that his jail ministry was over. Chaplain Perez smiled, handed Reggie an official badge with Reggie’s photo and new title, and said, “Welcome aboard, Chaplain’s Assistant!” Noting Reggie’s positive impact on the inmates and his dedication to their growth as believers, the correctional facility officials didn’t want his lack of a certificate to impede Reggie’s ability to minister to men in the detention center.

Reggie confessed, “I almost cried!” He remembered that, though things might be impossible for man, nothing is impossible for God. (Luke 1:37) “This badge meant I have full access to go anywhere in this jail, whether to visit a drunk driver who might be held overnight or even to someone who is facing the death penalty,” Reggie said in amazement.

Al Linder sharing God's Word

Al Linder, right, a volunteer from CC Manassas shares truth from God’s Word.

A Heart for Ministry

Chaplain Perez sensed right away that he and Reggie had a shared passion and heart for jail ministry. He added, “The greatest asset of a volunteer is that they have a heart of serving and don’t come in with their own agenda.”

Pastor David Spear, CC Manassas, is committed to the jail ministry. His wife and two daughters serve in the women’s housing area, and his second oldest son teaches weekly. “Our church is totally behind Reggie and Chaplain Perez’s vision to lead prisoners to Jesus Christ,” said David. Reggie is a paid member of CC Manassas church staff. “Reggie is a Christian assistant to the chaplain only, and not bound by any rules that try to make him share anything other than the Gospel.” Dave also noted, “Once you begin serving in jail ministry, you will never look at a prison or jail in the same light again. We need to remember that the Lord loves these inmates enough that He sent His precious Son to die for them, so they could have eternal life. God wants them to experience His grace.”

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

CC Manassas team praying with Chaplain Reggie Bembry

CC Manassas volunteers, left to right, Jonathan Spear, Al Linder, Abby and Carla Spear, and Reggie Bembry pray outside the detention center after teaching inmates. Abby and Carla teach in the women’s housing.


Inmate thanking Jonathan Spear

An inmate, right, thanks Jonathan Spear for coming in to teach after Bible class on a Sunday afternoon.


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.