WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 17, 2013, 09:56 PM

Jail Chaplains: “Second Chances” Bible Study

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The Jail Chaplain Program is changing lives every day in the Cass County Jail with its faith-based programs.

By: Kerstin Kealy, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The Jail Chaplain Program is changing lives every day in the Cass County Jail with its faith-based programs.

Church services, bible studies, anger management and counseling help inmates turn their lives around, but the faith journey doesn't stop when they're released from jail.

Tonight, we'll look at how the jail chaplain program is breaking down barriers and walking alongside them to help them re-enter our communities and become productive citizens.

Society labels them: Felons or convicts. All they want is a second chance.

Nathan Hooper - Jail Chaplains Bible Study: “I was selling drugs and I wasn't making money. I was a drug addict. I was making just enough money to stay high 24/7. I had gotten to the point I had OD'd a couple times while I was on the run and that was actually kind of my breaking point.”

Bob Light - Jail Chaplains Bible Study: “I was an attorney for 17 years and because of alcohol and some bad choices that I made, I basically lost everything in my life.”

Bob and Nathan are two of the men who find their sanctuary every week in a bright basement with 7 mismatched couches, cracked walls and floors and well-worn bibles.

In their weekly bible studies, they prove they don't need a fancy church. God is here.

For Bob, he says it was the Cass County Jail where he learned he couldn't rebuild his life without help, and it would be a long road after a conviction for terrorizing; being disbarred and a drunk-driving crash.

Light: “When I was finally brought to my knees completely and totally, that's when I really had to turn to God because I had nowhere else to turn. Mike and the Jail Chaplains were there to help me out. At that time, I thought that my life was over and I remember one of the first things that Mike told me was that your life isn't over; it can be just beginning.”

Mike Sonju is the Head Chaplain in the Jail Chaplains program. He's one of the 25 chaplains who are changing lives every day; both in jail and once inmates are released.

Mike Sonju - Head Chaplain, Jail Chaplains Program: “And trying to really help them find employment and plugging them into the right place, and the right people, so they can get on with the life that God has for them.”

Chaplain Mike knows first-hand about the demons these men face. He is open about his own struggles with alcohol. He shares his story to help others.

Sonju: ”I tell people I was an alcoholic. I hit bottom and I realized what it is to be down. I realize what it is to live in darkness and I realize what it is to live in light. And don't tell me how good your darkness is because I've been there; done that. I tell them how good God's light and the life that he has for them is.”

It's that perspective that has earned him the respect of these men and countless others who have turned their lives around in Program. For him, the wisdom is simple.

Sonju: “I'm a strong believer that if nothing changes, nothing changes. And I tell the guys if you're in jail here tonight, and nothing changes in your life, you'll be back here 10 years from now… If you're still alive.”

So it's bible studies like this one in downtown Fargo and other chaplain programs that are helping make and keep that change.

Hooper: “Mike was kind of like a foundation rock.”

Nathan, a pastor's son who once felt like he couldn't live up to the perfection, is now finding a new life; no longer on the run and free from drugs…

Hooper: “By my own ideologies, I'm an over-dosing drug addict with five felonies. By the help of Christ and the grace of God, I've got a job that I've held for over a year, a boss that trusts me to be a manager for whatever odd reason, a family that I love dearly and loves me and I'm starting to get that relationship back that I regretted not having when I was in jail.”

…Making the most of their second chance every day.

Light: “I went from a trial attorney to doing lawn care, but I'm grateful that I just have a job now. I can honestly say that I'm happier now than I've ever been at any point in my life.”