Prison chaplain’s flock is behind barsChaplain Mark Haines pastors a flock of 420 men. All 420 of them are incarcerated at the medium-security James River Correctional Center in Jamestown.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
Chaplain Mark Haines pastors a flock of 420 men.
All 420 of them are incarcerated at the medium-security James River Correctional Center in Jamestown.
“I seek to provide opportunities … for each individual to pursue their spirituality as they present it, within the parameters of what the state will recognize,” Haines said.
Haines was raised in the Church of Christ, but also attended Presbyterian churches. His theological background is a blending of Reformed traditions and the Pentecostal tradition.
He received his master’s degree in divinity from Oral Roberts University, where Haines decided chaplaincy was going to be the focus of his career.
He interned at the North Dakota State Hospital for four years, before he decided he needed to step into a professional position.
Haines was urged by his wife and his friends to apply for the chaplaincy at James River Correctional Center.
“I was not convinced that I could pastor them and bring hope into their lives,” he said.
As it turned out, that hasn’t been difficult.
“I don’t think I have a problem remaining hopeful,” Haines said.
Since 2001, he has served as chaplain at the Correctional Center, working with inmates of many faiths, from forms of Christianity to Islam, Wicca, Judaism, Odinism and Native American spirituality.
He focuses on creating opportunities for those inmates for spirituality, but also on creating opportunities for inmates to give back.
One of the ways they can do that is via the prison’s crochet program, which allows inmates to create blankets that are sent to people in seven countries, as well as families of inmates who have experienced a loss. If an inmate’s relative dies, for example, the inmate is offered a personalized, crocheted comforter.
“No one ever says no,” Haines said.
The crocheting program began when a single inmate asked for some yarn. Then a women’s group in Streeter asked Haines if he could use a box of yarn, and he accepted it with that inmate in mind.
The men taught each other how to crochet, and now they make not just blankets, but also caps and hackey sacks for children.
“It serves the purposes that I imagined. They know they’re doing something that’s impacting the world,” Haines said.
Part of his job is seeing the men for the value they do have, and finding ways to reach out to them, while circumventing some of the negative influences they are under.
“You just try to be aware of what it seems like their day has been like, try to encourage everybody you come across,” Haines said. “Every day is different.”
Each morning, he starts out by reading the security brief and picking up his keys. He checks to see what inmates have requested a visit, and from there, he might record a brief reading or meditation to put on the inmates’ television channel.
Haines coordinates volunteers from outside of the prison who visit and provide spiritual care to inmates. He also spends some time supervising his assistant, who is an inmate.
Each week, Haines puts together an ecumenical church service, and each week he also visits all secured units — for inmates who have been isolated from the general population.
“Freedom of religion is one of the most protected rights (in the Constitution) and we’re sworn to uphold the Constitution,” said Don Redmann, warden.
In all the time Haines has spent at work, he has never felt frightened. He said the saddest moments are when he must notify an inmate of a loved one’s death.
Separation from their loved ones is one of the hardest consequences of imprisonment. Inmates sometimes talk to Haines about how their wives have filed for divorce. Sometimes they just have questions about spirituality.
They do admit they’re guilty of the crimes that sent them to prison, but often, Redmann said, they rationalize them, so that they can continue to believe they’re not so bad.
“There’s a lot of self-preservation. If they can get past some of the preservation the whole world opens up to them,” Redmann said. “… until they realize something about grace, and realize that we’re all broken, it’s really hard for them.”
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at