RICHMOND, Va. -- A life-transforming prison ministry is taking inmates by surprise.
Volunteers on a mission to show the power of love and forgiveness say that they are making an impact.
"Prison ministry is not a popular ministry, it's not a ministry that gets a lot of fanfare, but it's real," Lindell Tinsley said.
Before the pandemic, a weekend visit to the prison was a regular event for Kairos, a non-profit, faith-based organization.
"We operate in 39 states and nine different countries. Our focus is to share the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ with inmates and their families," Tinsley said.
Lindell Tinsley is the Virginia Kairos State Chair. He and other local volunteers regularly pray and pack cookies before they go to share time with people behind bars.
"Our ministry is often known as the cookie ministry. We take home-baked cookies into the prison."
According to the organization, Virginia has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation. Kairos said the work that their volunteers do plays a large role in helping inmates stay out of trouble when they are released.
"If you understand that you have value, that your life has purpose and that you are someone that's worthwhile, that has a purpose and a destiny, then you become a contributor to society," Tinsley said.
The group's transforming mission has been greatly impacted by the coronavirus as visitors haven't been able to visit prisons. Tinsley said the facilities have also been suffering due to a critical lack of resources and low staff numbers.
This month, Kairos held a ceremony to thank former Governor Ralph Northam and the members of his administration for the effort Tinsley says they put in to help and protect prisoners in these challenging times.
Harvey Williams, who was recently pardoned by Northam, attended that ceremony.
"I had 25 more years to serve and I had already served 23 and a half years for a bank robbery charge that now carries a one to 10-year sentence. I received 50 years," Williams said.
While in prison, Williams said that volunteers with Kairos gave him the hope and strength that he needed.
"When I was first introduced to it, I was a skeptic. But the energy from the moment I walked into the room where men would actually come in and sit down and eat prison food with us and actually spend all day with us, it stood out to me that they must really care," Williams said.
Williams plans to give that same life-changing love and support back to the world as a free man.
"I very much wait to be a part of Kairos when they are allowed to go back into the prisons. I want to give back as well," Williams said.
He hopes that he can be an example of what love and forgiveness can produce.
"I'm understanding that the things that I want are available to me if I apply myself to make them a reality in my life and I am thankful for that," Williams said.
Tinsley said Kairos needs more volunteers with hearts to help so the organization can continue to strengthen communities by changing lives.
"Please, if you are a churchgoer or a church member or a believer in Christ or a sinner even, join the ministry. There is something that you can do," Tinsley said.
Watch Candace Burns' "Our RVA" reports Wednesdays on CBS 6 News at 4 and 6 p.m. If you know someone Candace should feature, email her at Candace.Burns@wtvr.com.
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