Mentor Program Helps Inmates Find Their Light

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Editor’s Note: The Sheriff’s Office requested we not publish the names of the inmates quoted in this story.

Every Friday six inmates in the county jail, meet for an hour to talk about the way, the truth and the light that will lead them to a better future beyond a jail cell.

The six are taking part in a faith-based mentoring program that was launched in October of 2018 in a collaboration between Pastor Gene McClendon of Hope Ministries, Saturday Night Life Church volunteers and the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office.

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All of them are awaiting court dates for various crimes, and have uncertain futures.

To participate in the program, inmates must meet guidelines that reflect their true desire for change. A form they submit to join the program is carefully reviewed. Then they are vetted, questioned thoroughly, sometimes more than once, to validate their intentions.

Sheriff Asa Buck said the program is part of efforts that include working with the District Attorney’s Office, various court system partners and local resources to help people get their lives back on track. He believes programs such as these help reduce recidivism – inmates returning to prison for future crimes – and increase public safety.

“When individuals take responsibility and accountability for their lives, and we provide assistance to help them to succeed. It is a win-win for the individual, the justice system and society as a whole,” the sheriff said. “They are receiving various types of counseling and services. So far all of our mentoring program participants are doing well.”

On one of these Fridays, Dwayne Pritchett, Hope Recovery Home staff member, and Will Bundy, Bridges Street House Manager, met with the inmates. The two men do not come into the meetings, Bible in hand, to simply preach – they come to create bonds and give guidance without judgment.

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Both Bundy and Pritchett have been where the program participants are. Both are former offenders. They can reach the men in the program on equal ground.

On January 29, Pritchett himself came out of jail mentoring program and into the recovery program at Hope Missions men’s facility.

“I had always known what was right and what was wrong,” he said. “I chose not to do the right thing. Through this program, God has been the game-changer. My goal is to share my success through Jesus Christ with others.”

One of the inmates agreed.

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“It was time for change. At first, I was looking at this as a way to get out of jail. But, I kept coming back,” he said. “Now, I am here for a different reason. So many in my family and my friends have been praying for me. Prayers were answered.” 

Another inmate said, pointing around the jail block, “Nothing changes until you change from the inside first. Otherwise the cycle of drugs and alcohol would continue. I had to end up in here, lose my pride, so God could change me.”

A third said the groundwork laid in the program will sustain him through a possible prison term, should he be convicted and sentenced.

“This is not just about a beginning, where I started,” he said. “This is about my ending. I can’t beat myself up about my past. My future may include prison. But, Jesus paid a big price so that I could succeed. When I listened to me, I failed. When I listen to God, I win. I will succeed.”

Pastor McClenndon said the mentoring program is about laying the groundwork to change lives one life at a time.

“I pastored churches, but there was always something in me that wanted to move the ministry in a different direction,” he said. “This mission is that direction, to model after Jesus.”