ABERDEEN – What began with daily inmate-led devotional classes at the Monroe County Detention Center is intended to flourish into an approach to change prisoners’ lives ahead of their releases.
One of Sheriff Kevin Crook’s visions in leading the department was to hire a full-time jail minister, but who he intended to put in the position withdrew interest due to his family’s needs. Who he found as a perfect fit, though, is a long-time friend who has been overcoming some personal demons of his own.
“I’ve lived pretty much most of my life on the wrong side of the law. As far as the experience it takes to do this, I don’t think I have any honestly. I’ve got a testimony to tell, and God’s leading me through anything I’m doing at this point,” said Bronson Miller, who lived in Amory until being sentenced for felony charges in Itawamba County.
Nineteen weeks into a 26-week Celebrate Recovery leadership training through Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Hatley, he was sentenced to five years for trafficking methamphetamine – enhanced with a firearm, felony fleeing and possession of marijuana with intent.
Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program helping those who feel hopeless and are struggling with pain, habits, hurt, hang-ups and addiction to work through issues in 12 steps.
Completing a church-based recovery program years ago, Bronson got off drugs for eight years before relapsing and being arrested on the felony charges.
“I started having a bunch of surgeries and had both hands operated on, I shattered this knuckle, had both shoulders operated on, my stomach all within four and a half months of each other. The surgeons wouldn’t do any of the surgeries until we paid the 20 percent the insurance companies wouldn’t cover. We were going broke. All I knew how to do was build houses and be in the [dope] game,” he said. “I made a couple of calls and was back in it. Like it says in the bible, if you don’t clean your house and replace it with something good, a set of demons worse than the ones before will come, and that’s pretty much how it went.”
On condition of bond, he went through Christian rehabilitation in Northport, Alabama for five months, where he was introduced to scripture, getting kicked out and going to Extra Mile Recovery in Mantachie, which proved to be a turning point in his life.
“I’ve been to church my whole life but I never opened the bible for the right reasons. Once I got here, I started reading the bible and receiving what God was telling me,” Bronson said of Extra Mile Recovery. “They planted two guys who were 19 and 20 in the same room with me. I was able to mentor without really knowing I was mentoring.”
His wife, Melissa, has seen a complete change in her husband.
“I have seen God work more in the last year than I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It was a big part because I got out of the way and let God do his work. I tried to fix Bronson and change him on my own and no way could I do that,” she said. “Once I got out of the way, he was a new creation.”
She said helping others stay off the path of bad decisions he has made ignites his passion.
“Bronson has a tremendous support system, and that’s a big factor in his continued recovery. He has a supportive family, supportive friends and an awesome church family that shows him unconditional love. No matter what he’s done, nobody’s turned their backs on him, and I think that’s why there was such a huge change. God’s people were showing God’s love,” she said.
Ministering inside and out
Bronson was sentenced in Crook’s first or second week of taking office and within a day, he put in a request for him to be transferred to the Monroe County Detention Center, where he’s a trustee.
“Still, I didn’t think this was the Lord’s plan of how we were going to do ministry in the jail but then as the pieces came together and Bronson was working on Celebrate Recovery, we found out there’s even a Celebrate Recovery for jails. It’s something more than I had even thought or imagined to get a program like Celebrate Recovery inside the jail. I was glad we were getting one in the county but now we have an opportunity to do it here,” Crook said. “There’s another young man here who helps him. He could really bond out but he feels like the Lord is keeping him here for something.”
Melissa is among a group of 12 people ready to launch a Celebrate Recovery program through Grace Fellowship after COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.
In addition to the daily devotions, Bronson is working towards starting the Celebrate Recovery and an eight-week study on Friday nights for inmates.
In the first week and a half of devotionals, the number of attendees doubled, and attitudes among inmates are changing.
“Some of them have already been exposed to God. You can tell the ones who have been,” Bronson said. “They’re so happy to be in there and so happy to have this going on. They go back and talk about it. You’ve got them praying about it instead of fighting about it.”
Crook said the timing of the devotions is perfect as inmates were starting to go stir crazy with no visitation allowed out of coronavirus precautions.
Through the daily devotions, held mornings and afternoons every weekday, inmates share things about their lives and open up among each other.
“It’s not my job to make sure they get it. It’s my job to plant the seed, and God takes care of the rest,” Bronson said. “I’ve done so much damage in my lifetime with stuff I’ve done. I just want to do some good before I die.”
Crook hopes as inmates transition out of jail and back into society, having exposure to scripture and being able to connect with Celebrate Recovery will help make them productive citizens.
“To me, it’s like having a missionary here who said, ‘I’ll live with your inmates for five years and share Christ with them.’ I don’t know how many missionaries who are willing to do that, so the Lord had awesome plans,” he said.
Crook and Bronson thanked jail administrator Scotty Clark for accommodating for the ministry with anything that’s needed.
“Somebody could’ve said, ‘Sheriff, my officers have to stop what they’re doing and get these guys out twice a day,’ but he gets it. I think they do too, even though it’s extra work on them,” Crook said of jailers.
No taxpayer dollars have been spent on the jail ministry as donations have come in to help. Sue Nix of Smithville donated 250 bibles through Dale and Johnny Leech for the ministry, and nonprofit organization, the Zachary Project, donated a brand new laptop for the ministry. Grace Fellowship has also donated items.
Crook added any churches or individuals who’d like to help with the growing jail ministry may call the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office at 369-2468.