When Joe Acevedo met chaplain Brad Aldridge at Lamar County Jail, in Acevedo’s words, he was “probably the farthest reaches from wanting to know anything about God.”
Acevedo had a tough past. He was a heavy drinker and drug user, and he had been selling to support his habit. His children were about to be adopted away after being taken by Child Protective Services, and when his sister died in March 2013, “a piece of me died with her,” he said. His behavior was driven by a desire to rebel against God, he said.
Before his incarceration, he asked his ex-wife to kill him. When she refused, he tried to do it himself, pulling the trigger on a loaded .22. But it was a dud — the first one he has ever encountered, he said.
Now, looking back, Acevedo sees God’s presence in his life, even in his lowest moments.
“Even then, when I didn’t believe him, even when I would curse him, he was still there,” Acevedo said.
At Lamar County Jail, Acevedo overheard Aldridge preaching and saw church services hosted in the cell blocks. He didn’t seek out the chaplain, but Aldridge would come back to the single-cell blocks and visit with the inmates. Finally, Acevedo started asking questions — about God, about his sister, about life.
“He ended up telling me that in life, I’m trying to basically drive the car and I was wanting God to sit in the passenger seat,” Acevedo said. “He said, ‘Well, you can’t do that. You need to let God drive, and you need to be in the passenger seat.’ I didn’t really understand it at the time. But that one thing Brad had told me, it stuck with me.”
Acevedo accepted Christ. Everything changed, he said. He became a vegetarian, studied the Bible daily and reconciled with his children. He began fasting and praying. He went to church. Now, he has started his own business and preaches sometimes.
“I’ve seen ministries in prison that’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” he said. “And Brad is the doorway to all of that.”
Praying with the broken
Acevedo’s story is one of many. Aldridge and other visiting pastors provide preaching, counsel and religious resources to inmates at the county jail, distributing 250 Daily Bread devotionals per quarter and 300 Bibles per year. They hold baptisms at the jail, as well as church services with music. The services are non-denominational, simple, Aldridge said.
“I tell the guys, we need to focus on the common — the common being the gospel, the love of Christ,” he said. “Focus on the basic gospel.”
Aldridge has worked in prison ministry for 10 years, and has been the chaplain at Lamar County Sheriff’s Office for eight years. He and the other pastors spend a lot of one-on-one time with inmates counseling, praying and listening, he said.
“Men are typically in a place of recognizing brokenness and need. They are very receptive to finding hope,” he said. “There are some who are still pretty hard — aren’t we all? I’m a huge fan of grace. The Lord doesn’t give up on us, so why would we give up on other people?”
There are aspects of prison ministry that are challenging, he said.
“There’s a generational cycle, unfortunately,” he said. “After eight years, you start to see some of the same names. Families. People saying, ‘Oh, you know my dad.’ And that’s a cycle that needs to be broken, for sure. It’s heartbreaking to see a father and his son in jail at the same time.”
Aldridge’s insight on breaking that cycle? The Lord, he said.
“Looking for significance, purpose, direction and hope somewhere else — meaning in the Lord, as opposed to whatever got them there,” he said.
While he is honest with inmates about the consequences of their decisions, Aldridge’s focus is on grace, he said. He sees the countywide attitude is the same. He cited several second-chance employers and local churches that welcome inmates, and said the sheriff fully supports the ministry and baptisms at the jail.
“I would say, in general, Lamar County is willing to extend grace and another opportunity,” Aldridge said.