Several inmates inside a special jail pod at the DeSoto County Adult Detention Center are prisoners no more to a life of sin.
In fact they have been set free.
The Rev. Curtis Pennington is the Chaplain of the DeSoto County Adult Detention Center and his job is not only to save souls but help provide counseling and pastoral care to both inmates and jail officers.
"I preach and preach and preach and sometimes I use words," said Pennington, who spent 23 years in the military, rising to the rank of First Sergeant in the United States Army.
A native of Rolling Fork, who has lived in cities large and small around the nation, Pennington now calls Senatobia home. He and wife Nettie are the parents of four children and grandparents of nine.
But it's the inmates who have become like family to the longtime chaplain, who has spent 15 years ministering to the needs of individuals behind bars.
Pennington said each inmate belongs to the family of God and each one is a brother in Christ. Assistant Chaplain Jackie Wilcock tends to the spiritual needs of female inmates.
"I don't care what the charge is when you come in here," added Pennington, who has early morning devotionals with inmates, teaches an intensive Bible study and recently launched an addiction recovery program within the sprawling detention facility. "You could be a triple murderer. All that I ask each inmate is if they have a relationship with Christ."
Inmates in the special program are hand-selected by Pennington and they live separately in a jail pod, away from other inmates.
A member of Springfield Missionary Baptist Church in Tate County, Pennington operates "Overcomer's Journey," which is a 14-step recovery program.
His soon-to-be published book, "Signposts," helps point inmates in the right direction.
A former deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, Va., Pennington said a disciplined approach is needed when studying the Word of God.
"Every morning at 9 a.m. we start our devotional class," Pennington said. We work on signposts. We do a 14-week program, with one class a day and five classes in a week. We do a total of 70 hours of Biblical classes, which doesn't include the life skills that we teach."
Additionally, Pennington assists inmates with earning their GED's.
"Before I was in the program, I was lost," said an inmate named Keshawn. "I'm still learning. This guy (Pennington) has changed my whole life. He has been a blessing."
Fellow inmate Quentin agreed. "It's completely turned my life around. My family is good people but I was ignorant. I grew up without a father but I feel that I have a father in Chap, and of course my Heavenly Father."
Alvin, who resides in the special jail pod with his fellow Christian brothers, said he has learned more "about every aspect of my life. It's been an eye-opener. It's been a positive experience."
Willie said being in the class and learning about the Gospel from Pennington has been a "life changing experience."
"I've learned about my spirit," Willie said. "I've learned that you have to let the Lord work in your life. I can't live my life being greedy. I have to learn to do what the Lord wants me to do. When I get out, I have to learn to resist temptation and not go back to my old habits and work with the skills that I've learned."
Pennington said his own life experience helps him identify with the inmates.
His mother passed away when he was 10. A rebellious young man, Pennington was sent to live with relatives in Chicago.
"I was hard-headed and wouldn't listen to my stepmom," Pennington said.
Life in the U.S. Army provided the young man with the discipline he needed in life.
God did all the rest.
"I went to Vietnam twice," Pennington said. "I was in Cambodia. One of the things I try and share with them is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I try and meet them where they are. The Bible says to be as wise as a serpent and as humble as a dove. We talk about being on a journey. We all need direction. The signpost will tell us where we need to go next."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.