By Clint Confehr
MURFREESBORO, TN — A holiday meal at the Patterson Park Community Center was served recently when volunteers sought to provide for people with friends and relatives who are incarcerated.
The outreach was on behalf of Rutherford County Adult Detention Center inmates, according to organizers of the community event. The volunteers point to this plaintive fact; the holiday season is a festive time that includes poignant reality.
“Every single person is important,” the Rev. Chris Warren of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church told well over 100 people. “Your family member who’s not here is important… People need to know they are loved.”
Pastor Brian Stowers of Manchester, his wife, Ellen, and their foster child said they were invited by a friend of a friend on a request from an incarcerated parent. The Stowers complimented the abundance of resources.
“It’s just amazing that so many agencies came together under one roof,” said Stowers. His wife added, “They’re being the hands and feet of Christ.”
‘They’ include Dawn Rhodes who volunteers with Community Action Committee members who joined forces after racist vandals desecrated a church in September 2018. Now, “whenever there’s a need,” Rhodes responds. Also serving Nov. 19 were Horace Marable of Agape Outreach. Sheral Barney and Stacy Dunaway volunteered as Mormons for their faith’s food and service project. Rhodes also thanked United Methodists, the Advent Lutheran Church, Look Along the Road Ministries, Helping One Another, Fire Church, and Destiny Center.
Lisa Marchesoni, the sheriff’s public information officer, helped plan the event and thanked “volunteers who came together to show love to inmates’ families.”
Retired Baptist pastor Richard Sibert said the organizing committee met on Wednesdays for several months to do something that addresses this reality: inmates “are separated from their families.”
Members of Rockvale High School’s Family Careers and Community Leaders of America served on the food line.
“I was stunned there were so many volunteers who care,” Marchesoni said. “One grandmother was grateful that her grandchildren were treated so well.”
Marchesoni is the friend of a friend who called nearly 100 people named by inmates so they’d know about the event.
It’s “important,” Rhodes said, for inmates’ families “to connect with other families, build a rapport and hopefully exchange contacts so they would have a resource pool” and a “perspective on how to approach things and be respectful.”
Encouraging words to inmates’ relatives were delivered by Kevin Henderson, chief deputy over the adult detention center. He speaks with inmates daily and recommends that they “change their mindset.”
Of nearly 740 people housed by the county, about 130 are inmates serving state sentences closer to where their relatives live, Henderson said. They’re usually convicted for lesser offenses with terms of six years or less.
The senior corrections officer and other volunteers acknowledged the abundance of people available to serve. They outnumbered those who were invited. Asked why, Henderson said it seems that too many male inmates “have multiple babies’ mammas, so there’s conflict. Sometimes families cut them off. They’ve been in and out and in. People get tired.”
The holiday meal in a city gymnasium allowed social connections between people with a desire to serve a perceived need.
“I was astounded by the amount of food available,” Rhodes said a few days later when she contemplated what might develop as a result of the event. That might be a partnership, or a service project with children of the families invited to the holiday meal, she said, adding, maybe they’ll discover what the children would change in their community.
“I don’t know what will come of it,” Rhodes said, “but this is an idea.”