A pulpit, a congregation, a church – as it were – in a completely different environment than that which most attend each Sunday. But nonetheless, it is exactly the same as any other in one important way: the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Curtis Pennington, Chaplain of the DeSoto County Detention Center located at 3425 Industrial Drive West in Hernando, has served the inmates' religious and spiritual needs since 2015 when he was invited to serve. Though not an employee of either the county or the jail, Chaplain Pennington accepted the position as a certified minister.
“I grew up pentecostal, then served in the U.S. Army,” Pennington said. “After the Army, in Washington, D.C. I was a deputy sheriff. I retired from that position, and my wife Nettie and I moved to Tate County and raised our four daughters.”
Pennington still lives in Senatobia and his ministerial duties not only include the DeSoto County Detention Center but several churches in the area.
“I usually spend about 30 hours weekly at the Detention Center where I minister to the inmates' needs, not only as a pastor but also their personal issues that may include issues like counseling and/or a death in their family,” Pennington mentioned.
Because there is not a dedicated chapel in the Detention Center building, a meeting room serves that purpose which can accommodate approximately 20 inmates.
“We divide them into two groups, one of which attends in the “C” wing, and the other in the “D” wing,” Pennington explained. “Beginning June 15, we will open the rooms for the men; with each one being pre-screened according to the CDC mandate about social gatherings.”
As a chaplain, Pennington serves seven days each week at the prison, offering personal one-on-one time for inmates who have personal issues that need addressing, as well as a nightly 7 p.m. service.
Visiting lay pastors from other churches in the area come weeknights to teach the men and various denominations are accommodated.
“We've had Muslim inmates that we serve without using the Koran, but by sharing the love of Christ,” said Pennington. “If a Muslim would request a Koran of his own, we would accommodate that through a group in Memphis. Bibles, though, are often requested by inmates and we have a few area churches that help in that regard, furnishing Bibles as part of their church missionary programs.”
This April, Chaplain Pennington's book, “Walking in Darkness” was published, a study guide based on daily instruction from the Word of God. The reception among the inmates has been positive, some asking for copies so that they can follow the guidance of Scripture in their daily lives.
“I also have assistance from a staff member that ministers to the female population in the prison, some 70 to 100 women,” Pennington said. “It parallels that which the men receive in classes and in nightly services.”
Funding for such an effort is an ongoing concern since the ministry is not paid out of the DeSoto County Detention Center budget. However, several churches donate regularly to help meet needs, and donations are always welcomed through the DeSoto County Jail Ministry from either individuals or from churches.
Donations to assist in the jail ministry’s efforts may be directed to the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, 315 Losher Street, #100, Hernando, MS 38632, with the notation on the check that it goes to the DeSoto County Ministry Fund.