Nearly 100 Inmates Join Church of Pastor who Preaches at Prince William – Manassas Jail
MANASSAS, Va. – As the men quietly file into the gymnasium, Pastor Tony Lewis gives each a hug and a handshake. Lewis knows them by name, he understands each story, and supports the men as they pass days, weeks, sometimes years at the Prince William – Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in Manassas.
“I am here to explain heavy theology to an average guy coming out of PWC jail who does not like church, but wants a relationship with Jesus,” Lewis said before the service. “
The seats in the gymnasium fill with men. Some are wearing blue jumpsuits; some green and others white shirts and pants. Each inmate at the facility wears clothes based on the severity of the crime committed. Green offenders are the lowest level and least violent, blue are more violent and inmates wearing white are called trustees. Trustees work within the jail cleaning, cooking and helping with the running of daily life.
“I treat these people with respect,” Officer Darien Ruggles says, “I try to treat them with empathy. We are the only contact these men have with people sometimes for years.”
During the service, Ruggles, who is the Inmate Programs Coordinator, watches the inmates as Lewis speaks to them. Reminding the men that God has a plan for them. Hopefully, teaching them lessons that will help with life on the outside Lewis says.
“It was a spiritual awakening,” says Shawn Ennis, 43, who is serving time for grand larceny. “Pastor Tony is not much different than we are; he tells it like it is.”
Ennis will be in jail until March 2015, but he hopes to join Pastor Lewis’s church after his release.
“The pastor helps us with our addiction issues,” Ennis said in an interview. “He teaches us how to find and use the tools available in the bible to help us with every day life.”
Pastor Lewis preaches to inmates every Saturday night in a program called Saturday Night Live. He also meets with inmates one-on-one during counseling sessions on Wednesdays. The program has become popular with inmates. During the last few months, Lewis says 92 men have been baptized into his congregation.
“My being here is a blessing,” Victor Romero says quietly.
He is a small man, and not intimidating. But Romero’s list of crimes is lengthy.
He is serving more than two years for drug sales and crimes associated with the gang he ran with.
“I have had no contact with my Dad since age 12 when I left home. Pastor Tony has helped me learn forgiveness and love for myself and others,” said Romero.
In his spare time, Romero writes poetry about his religious experience. He speaks of helping his fellow man after his release.
“I found acceptance on the street through gangs, drugs and violence, but now I know what love is thanks to Pastor Tony.”
As the services winds down, Tony and Charlet Lewis look out at the men and Tony asks them to bow their heads. He raises his hands over the assembly and asks God to look after the men for another week.
It is a happy gathering, not aggressive or violent. The men seem at peace with life in jail.
“I want these men to have an understanding of the world around them when they leave here,” Lewis says after the service. “We are giving inmates life skills and teaching them self respect.”
Lewis has a congregation on the outside too. He works in Manassas helping the needy, giving meals out to families for Thanksgiving and says he hopes that Light of Life will be known as the city’s church.
“I love people and I love serving especially in Manassas and Prince William County,” he said.
For more information on the Light of Life church visit lightoflifetoday.org.