Inmates lobbying to hold Bible study group in cells

Sessions are allowed only in common rooms for security reasons

April 07, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

Led by a crack addict awaiting trial on burglary charges, a group of inmates at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center in Annapolis is crusading to hold daily Bible study sessions in their cells.

Officials don't want the inmates to congregate in individual cells -- even to study Scripture.

"Most of us are drug addicts who had some childhood values messed up," said Mike Thompson, 35, the Bible study leader. "Now, the Bible installs values and morals and a better way of living. We are trying to do something positive, and the detention center won't let us."

Jail officials say it's a question of security.

"We don't stop inmates from praying," said Robin Harting, the facility administrator. "We encourage it, not discourage it. We control inmate movement and prohibit inmates from going into areas they are not assigned to."

Twelve inmates assemble regularly to study the Bible, Thompson said. Most are awaiting trial on drug or burglary charges. Jeffrey D. Gardner, convicted two weeks ago of beating, squeezing, burning and smothering his infant son, is a regular member.

The detention center has an arrangement with The Good News Jail and Prison Ministry to provide a chaplain who coordinates weekly religious services using volunteers.

The center allows Bible study groups only in common rooms with a minister or clergy member, but forbids it unless everyone in the room agrees.

Other inmates are allowed to congregate to talk and watch television shows such as Jerry Springer, Thompson says.

"Nobody says anything to them," he said.

Thompson, an admitted crack addict, was transferred to the detention center from Deep Meadows Correctional Center in Fairfax County, Va., in early February to await trial on burglary and trespassing charges.

He says he "lost everything" when he began smoking crack regularly in 1984. His habit began costing him $700 a day. Thompson, who had worked in Washington as a painter, has not seen his wife or three children since 1993 and doesn't know where they live.

Detention center officials advised him three weeks ago to stop holding Bible study in his cell, Thompson said. When he refused, he was handcuffed and taken to a two-man confinement cell.

Thompson said he was reprimanded for engaging in a "mutinous act" and for "disobeying lawful order."

Harting said she is forbidden by law from commenting on a prisoner's discipline records.

Thompson said Bible study was a "time to get together and pray for each other."

He said inmates brought "feelings to Bible study instead of fighting."

"It was a good thing for us and the detention facility," said Thompson.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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