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'We are going to change this city'

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POINT: Sheriff Chris Newton points toward the leaders in attendance who made the REC Room renovation possible to begin offering church services, mental health classes and other programs for inmates. Police Chief Chad Hacker, Commissioner Tom Wall and Huntington County Council members Ron Kline and Terry Miller were in attendance.
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SPEAK: Awakening Church pastor Jeff Carrell talks to the female inmates of Huntington County Jail to provide them with inspiration to put an end to the cycle of recidivism caused by addiction. The male inmates had their service later in the day.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

The impact of Huntington County Jail’s first church service in the newly renovated REC room could be shown by counting the number of used tissues.

By the time pastor Jeff Carrel of the Awakening Church finished his sermon about identity, the nearly two dozen inmates present passed around a box of tissues to help dry the eyes of nearly half the room. They weren’t tears of sorrow, in fact, many of the inmates said they were inspired for the first time in a long time.

“I felt like I was in this ‘stuck’ place,” Gwendera Nevil, who is preparing to serve a six-year sentence in prison, said. “I made these same decisions again, but now I feel like there is (something) lifted off my heart. It’s off my shoulders, and (I feel) that I can still go forward from this point.”

Tabitha Redding said she felt an immediate change from how she’s felt the past few weeks before the services started.

“I was shaking, but I knew it was because I felt Jesus. It hits home because I was good once and then I relapsed… What I’ve lost in these past two years is way more that I’ve ever lost before.

She said she was so excited that she could hardly sleep the night before. She began to get excited as soon as she heard Carrel was coming to speak to them, so she encouraged the other girls in her block to attend with her.

“I just get a burst of energy from this,” Redding said following the service. “Some people just don’t understand it, but it’s like the Holy Ghost entered and you just want to run around in circles.”

Although the service ended on an inspiring point of focus, Carrel didn’t shy away from addressing the reason why he was there that day. He said each inmate needs to realize their personal choices got them into trouble.

“We sit in here and we say, I’m never going to come back, but 75 percent of you come back,” she said to the audience. “Why? ... We’ve been in this lifestyle so long that it scares us to death to learn something new.”

One of the inmates spoke up from the crowd to ask if they could be where they are because the city lacks resources and programs to help them get through their addictions, but Carrel responded with an example from his life.

He said he spent every Friday for a year at a bar on Market Street and never once was pressured into doing drugs or having a drink. He said the first step to making a lifestyle change is to change the environment they live in and accepting responsibility.

“If we live as a victim the rest of our life, we give up the right to make anything out of ourselves… Nobody has to control you,” he said. “No substance can control you.”

He told them that if they truly make a change in their lives, their child will be the first person to forgive them because he said through his 25 years of experience he’s found that, when asked, children don’t say they wish their parents gave them more toys or material things.

“Do you know what they all say? I just want mom and dad,” Carrel said. “I just want a healthy mom. I don’t need anything but their love.”

He said in order to be good parents, the mothers need to learn how to truly love. He said the inmates may have come from a background where they never really felt love before, but he said they can find what love is by living with God.

“Some of us turn to drugs because to fill the need because we hurt so bad… The wound inside of you has to be medicated,” he said. “But the wound you’ve been treating with drugs can be cured.”

He said when they find God, they will know what forgiveness is, which will allow them to give forgiveness.

He said Huntington is experiencing bad recidivism, where inmates get locked up shortly after being released. He said the reason why is because they make the same choices.

“God designed you to be loved and to love,” he said. “This (being incarcerated) is not what he designed us for.”

Huntington County Commissioner Tom Wall addressed the group following the service to tell them that this is just the first step in the commissioner’s plans to address mental health and substance abuse issues in the county.

“If you think we do not care, you are wrong,” Wall said. “We do care about you. We want to see you succeed.”

Carrel made each inmate promise that they would turn the TV off before bed and come together to pray. He encouraged the women to share what they felt at service, saying this was just the beginning.

“Change has started at the Huntington County Jail, and it’s going to happen every week just like this,” he said. “We are going to change this city.”