Hundreds of women filled a gymnasium downtown, captivated by a charismatic woman who commanded their attention and spoke about the power of faith.
For any visitor, it felt like a normal church conference or retreat, complete with a home-cooked barbecue lunch. The only difference is that most attendees were wearing brown scrubs. This was prison.
Wendell-based Dew4Him ministries enters the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women the first Friday of every month for their “TGIF: Today God is First” Bible study.
Once a year, they hold their retreat day, where they serve participants Krispy Kreme doughnuts and lunch, as well as a rich message of freedom through faith.
Of the roughly 1,600 inmates at the facility, about 220 attended the seventh annual retreat this year, many of whom are regular attendees to the Bible study. There’s a waiting list, and each woman, young and old, seems grateful to have made it this year.
About 50 volunteers arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, coming from nearly 20 churches around the Triangle. Another 10 men arrive at noon with steaming plates of sweet potatoes and barbecue chicken they had been cooking since 6:15 a.m.
Jane Wolfe, founder and president of Dew4Him, has been serving at the prison for more than eight years, and has reached thousands of women with each new wave of attendees to her monthly Bible studies.
Message of change
Wolfe’s presence takes the gymnasium stage by storm, gently demanding the women’s attention and rallying their energy early in the morning. Kites are plastered to the windows and ceiling and even decorate the tables. The theme this year is SOAR – Wolfe tells the women to rise above challenges.
“Are you open to change?” she asked the women.
Hundreds cheered loudly in the affirmative. Wolfe encouraged them to start living with belief.
“Live in the dark and the danger,” Wolfe said, motioning with emphasis. “Let your light shine.”
She asked the women what weighed them down, preventing them from “soaring” high. Their past, depression, health issues, negativity, unforgiveness, they answered.
Volunteer Ginger Lee has helped with the retreat several years. She said it’s not a waste of time.
“You can see the results,” she said.
Kim Floyd, 42, has little free time while serving her sentence – she works two jobs, volunteers as an usher at the prison’s chapel and attends nearly every Bible study offered by the 10 ministry groups that serve the prison.
She has attended the Dew4Him study since she came to the prison in 2011.
“It carries you for a month,” she said. “The volunteers are like our family. They show us love. We’ve committed crimes, but we’re still human. The volunteers come and lift our spirits.”
Keisha Moore, 37, finds the study unique because its leaders call on participants to reflect on what the passages mean for the readers.
“I’m still working on identifying areas I need to work on, like not holding grudges,” Moore said. She’s over halfway through serving her 17-year sentence, and also holds multiple jobs. She loves writing poetry and has filled five journals. The religious ministries are life-changing, she said.
“It’s the backbone of the compound. It’s the most normal setting we’ve been in,” she said. “It’s an example of agape love.”