Two to three times a month, Franklin Iron Works owner, ordained minister, and former police officer Doug Mosley makes the 70-mile round trip drive to a maximum security women’s prison in Tennessee. His mission? Prison ministry.
A 2010 study showed 46% of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee were reincarcerated within three years’ time, which is a little higher than the national average of four in 10. Mosley sees his role in these prisoners’ lives as helping these women change the way they look at situations, which then changes their behavior for the better. Many have improved their behaviors, becoming model prisoners to the point of earning early paroles.
“The captain guard out there loves me,” Mosley explains. “He tells me he definitely sees changes in behavior that they cannot get out of them – it’s permanent change. They go from being troublesome prisoners to becoming model prisoners as the result of our worship services.”
This year, Mosley’s prison ministry was recognized as #1 in the state of Tennessee. From its meager start with 12 inmates attending his services, today it has grown into a regular congregation of 60 to 80 women, or up to one-third of the prison’s population. “I resisted going for a long time, “ Mosley recalls, “I used to be a police officer, and I believed that these people were unredeemable. Now I know that isn’t true. Now I’m hooked. I can’t wait to go back and preach to them. I plan for it all month.”
Mosley is not compensated for his time volunteering, and he is held to strict standards in his interactions with the prisoners. For example, he must have a woman accompany him to every sermon, and he cannot bring anything besides the words he preaches. “I can’t give them so much as a pen or a stick of gum, or I’d be kicked out of there.”
When Mosley started his prison ministry three years ago, most of these women had never read a Bible or been in a church. “They didn’t know protocol. While I was preaching, they’d blurt out questions. They are a rough bunch—murderers, drug traffickers, armed robbers. One woman offered to stab another woman just because she was speaking up and asking me questions during my first sermon there,” Mosley recalls. “I realized, ‘Wow, they really do need me here.’”
Mosley carries with him a level of authority and authenticity that resonates with these women, because he used to police the women in his jurisdiction who were just like them. “With my background as a former police officer, I know the environment they came from. I prevented women just like them from getting beaten by their husbands or molested by their fathers. They know I understand how they got there. I speak frankly with them on a level that other people cannot.
“Every time I go, I have them fill out their personal prayer requests. It’s something that only I see. I know what their personal needs, wants and desires are, and I base my sermons on those prayer requests. Many of them have commented to me how this has impacted their lives, how they’ve improved, and how it’s improving their stay there.
“The key takeaway is, ‘Don’t judge others.’ These people don’t judge you. They are very humble people. They are truly sorry for what they’ve done, and they are trying to change their lives. I’m proud of every one of them. They’ve been beaten down all of their lives, being told they were failures, or that they weren’t good enough. Everyone needs someone to believe in them. If we all just lifted each other up instead of looking at the negative all of the time, the world would be a better place.”
In the end, Mosley feels these prisoners have changed his heart as much as he has changed theirs.