Gary Almquist is one of eight pastors that serve as chaplains to the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department. Because of his ministry, The Father’s Love, this will be the fourth year that the inmates at the jail have been able to participate in the Mother’s Day card program. The inmates were given Mother’s Day cards to fill out two weeks before the holiday weekend. Postage fees to mail the cards will be covered by the ministry.
Before starting the program, Almquist heard about other jails that had programs like this. He said “I just thought that would be a really cool thing to do here at the jail, so we tried it and it’s been pretty successful.” The program also offers Christmas cards to the inmates, so they can connect with family at that time of year.
The Vernon County jail usually has about 120-125 inmates. This year they handed out 120 cards, and 95 were returned to be mailed. The cards are provided by American Rehabilitation Ministries, which is based in Joplin. “They are a distributor for Dayspring Cards and for the American Bible Society. We get the cards from them for no charge, and the Bibles are distributed by them.” Almquist said.
The card program is unique because it is one of the only programs that makes it possible for inmates to keep in contact with family and loved ones outside of the jail. “I think it’s really important. They might make some mistake to get in jail, and they’ve got to deal with that now that they’re in here. But at some point, they’re going to be coming back into society and they need somebody they have a positive relationship with to help them when they get out.” said Sheriff Mosher.
The sheriff said that they have found that the most common relationship that inmates seek to maintain is that with their mothers. “Whether it’s an 18-year-old kid that got himself into jail, or a 45-year-old man, the mothers are the ones they always fall back to.”
Almquist said that sometimes people ask why they don’t have a similar program for Father’s Day, and they found that the response rate from inmates is about seven percent compared to the 80 percent for Mother’s Day. “Most of the men don’t know who their fathers are or have bad relationships with their fathers, but the mothers are generally the ones that cared for them, or that they were nurtured by.”
The inmates respond well to the Mother’s Day card program, thanking the chaplains for making it possible to contact their loved ones. “Most of them don’t have very much contact at all with their parents, sisters or grandmothers. So, this gives them an opportunity to keep that relationship going, and that’s what we like about it.” Almquist said.
The chaplains serve an important role in the Sheriff’s office. There are eight on-call pastors who rotate emergency calls. They meet with the Sheriff once a month. According to Mosher, a chaplain is called to assist if there is a death call, or if there is a circumstance that the deputies on the scene feel is beyond what they can deal with.
They also frequently assist the staff and inmates within the jail. There are times that an inmate is notified of a family death or hospitalization. Mosher said those times are difficult because “They’re already upset because they’re in jail. It used to be that the detention officer would go down and tell them. But we have found that it works a lot better now. We’ve got a process that we call the chaplains and they’ll go talk to them.”
Sometimes there are issues going on outside of the jail and because the person is in custody they are unable to deal with the problem, and the inmate really wants to talk to somebody. The can be put on a list to talk to the chaplain, so they can talk one-on-one. “We do a lot of one-on-one.” Almquist said.
The chaplains hold seven or eight Saturday services for the inmates in the jail. Sheriff Mosher said that the services are available at the jail on the inmates request. “This isn’t a program that we started because we tried to get the inmates to do it. The chaplains are here because the inmates want to go to church while they’re in jail. There have been a few times that things were really busy and we’ve missed a week or two and the inmates were saying “Hey, we want to do church service.”
Almquist has been a chaplain at the Sheriff’s office for over eight years. As he put it, “Jesus said, ‘I’ve come to set the captives free.’ so that’s what we try to do, the best we can.”