A/G chaplain ministers to women in maximum-security prison
(April 28, 2002)
Visitors are rare in the segregated maximum-security section of the
Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Family and friends are prohibited
from visiting. Except for Assemblies of God Chaplain Pamela Moore, two
other chaplains at the institution and support staff, few others are
allowed in the secure unit.
Office visit: A/G
Chaplain Pamela Moore counsels inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for
This is a noisy place most of the time as the isolated inmates shout
at one another or to attract the attention of corrections officers.
Some yell obscenities. These inmates are locked down for 23 hours a
day. The only exceptions are to shower and exercise.
The rustle of a visitor is noticed immediately. As Moore, 54, enters
the wing, she hears many voices clamoring for recognition. She stops
to chat in an effort to form a connection.
"Often they just want someone to talk to," says Moore, who attends
First Assembly of God in Mansfield with her husband of 27 years, Paul.
"They have a lot of time to think in segregation. If they are willing
to let the Lord get hold of them it can mean a big change."
The early encounters arent a time for deep theological discussions.
Moore is just there to listen, pray and leave Christian literature with
those who are interested. The interaction takes place through a "cuff
port," a small opening in the steel cell door large enough for the purpose
of hands to be handcuffed.
Only after a prisoner has shown a genuine spiritual curiosity
and authorities have approved may she be brought out of the cell
and led into another room for one-on-one discipleship. But a prison
conversion doesnt garner much leniency. Inmates still must wear
shackles in the most secure area of the facility.
Many in the prison population earlier suffered physical or sexual abuse.
"These women arent that dissimilar from those Ive treated
before," says Moore, a former mental health therapist. "The difference
is those women had some kind of support system that kept them from making
"Chaplain Moore is a caring, spiritual leader," says Bonnie Frost,
58, who worked as a Methodist chaplain at the institution. "Shes
a good model for the women. She takes time with them."
Moore, who had completed a master of divinity degree in pastoral counseling,
never thought about prison ministry until reading a Pentecostal Evangel
article. She initially began volunteering at the Richland County
Jail and found the experience joyful. Although Moore had been apprehensive,
she felt comfortable relating to the women in a meaningful way.
Through that experience, much prayer and the counsel of friends, Moore
contacted the Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Department. After her ordination
in May 2000, Moore applied for a job at the reformatory, the only maximum-security
prison for women in Ohio. She was hired as a contract chaplain for 30
hours a week.
There are around 1,800 inmates at the facility, serving sentences from
less than a year to life. From a distance, the reformatory looks like
a college campus, with brick and stone buildings forming a quadrangle.
But on closer inspection it becomes clear that fences and barbed wire
arent keeping students inside. Most inmates work or attend educational
classes during weekdays. That means Moore works plenty of evenings and
weekends. About half her time is spent in pastoral counseling providing
"Unlike many men, women usually want to talk about emotional crises,"
Moore says. She holds weekly Bible studies with the general population
and the non-violent offenders. She also regularly visits cottages where
inmates are physically unable to make it to regular Sunday worship services,
which draw around 60 in the morning and 225 in the evening. The prison
church includes a choir, praise dance troupe and a drama team.
Moore has opportunities to impact "career criminals" who face a bleak
future once their sentences are finished. "All of a sudden they look
at their lives and they know theyre going to die if they go back
on the streets again," Moore says. "They begin to think seriously about
That makes Moores role one that includes nurturing and caring,
showing the love that some of the women missed growing up. The inmates,
by and large, had no godly role models and their self-image is damaged.
One of those she disciples accepted Jesus as Savior at a county jail
before being transferred to the reformatory. "She cries when she talks
about Jesus seeing her that night," Moore says. "I told her, Jesus
always has seen you, but this is the one time you saw Him. Now
she is hungering after the things of God like she used to hunger after
Those in segregation, especially, need pastoral care. "They believe
God has forgotten them or that God should forget them
because of the things they have done," Moore says.
Despite the draining toll ministry to such people can take, Moore finds
her job satisfying because it is a wonderful mission field. "Not a day
goes by that I dont get to present the gospel to someone," she