Prisoner Packets Meet Needs, Spread Holiday Cheer
South Carolina Baptists have provided 23,957 prisoner packets for state inmates this holiday season. On Monday, December 5, at St. Andrews Church in Columbia, about 130 volunteers and inmates from four institutions worked together to check, assemble, and bag the packets for delivery. They were distributed the following day to adult inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), and 450 of the packets were distributed to youth and students in the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Senior SCDC Chaplain Allen Edmisten, with the Tyger River Correctional Institution, has helped with the packet assembly for eleven years. He sees the prisoners’ needs daily, and says the packets represent an outpouring of love and a tangible part of the gospel to them.
“Christmas is a difficult time to be in prison. These packets mean that someone remembers inmates and shows they care about them. I want to thank South Carolina Baptist churches for being faithful to provide for and promote this, and thank all of the groups that do this ministry. It fills my heart with joy to know this gift is coming to these inmates,” Edmisten says.
This year’s collection marks the 40th year of the holiday ministry which relies on churches and associations to donate complete packets for prisoners. Each plastic zippered bag contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, mints, a pad of paper, pen and postage embossed envelopes, along with Gospel literature.
“It’s a blessing to help assemble the prisoner packets, but it’s an even bigger blessing to break bread with the inmates we’re serving alongside and build a relationship with them,” says Peggy Jones, a member of Maple Baptist Church in Conway.
This was Tim’s first year helping at the packet assembly day, something the inmate described as a blessing. “I feel like God chose me to serve today, and I’m happy to do it. There is a lot of love in this state, you don’t see people coming together like this very much,” he says.
This was North American Mission Board Chaplain Larry Epps’ second year serving during the packet assembly process. A member of Rock Springs Church in Easley, Epps says he sees a range of emotions from inmates at the Perry facility when he delivers the Christmas packets each year.
“This packet gives me the opportunity to look an inmate in the eye, man to man, and tell him we love him and are there for him. It gives me great pride, when they ask where the packet comes from, to tell them it’s from South Carolina Baptists. They ask why we give, and I get to say it’s because we care about you,” Epps says.
Kerri, a female inmate, described helping with the Christmas packet assembly as a privilege, a blessing, and a little taste of freedom. “It is wonderful to see how people across the state have made this happen for inmates in South Carolina. We are supposed to love one another, and this makes me feel loved,” she says.
According to Chaplain Mike Brown, chief of pastoral services with the SCDC, Christmas packet donation is just one of many ways South Carolina Baptists can impact inmates across the state. One primary opportunity is through the Proverbs 226 ministry which teaches life skills and job transitioning tools to inmates re-entering the community after their release. Another is through Malachi Dads which focuses on breaking negative family cycles by teaching parenting skills and offering assistance to children of incarcerated parents.
To the individuals and churches already involved in prison ministry through the Christmas packets, Brown expressed his appreciation. “This program reminds me of the vitality of God’s continuing miracles. That churches would coordinate and do this for 40 years is an incomprehensible level of the spirit of God’s love,” he says.