- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

GLEN BURNIE, Md. "Amens" and smiles greeted the Rev. Bennett G. Murray, a warm reception from a small, captive Bible study class in a back room at Anne Arundel County's Ordnance Road Correctional Center.
He clutched a maroon-backed Bible close to his chest, and the seven participants on a recent evening, in green inmate uniforms, sitting in a circle, all had a firm grip on paperback copies of the book that Mr. Murray hopes will change the direction of their lives.
Mr. Murray, a round man with a reverberating voice, asked the men to raise their hands if they were committed to Christ. Seven hands shot up.
"And do you ever want to come back to prison?" he asked, turning around the circle, meeting seven pairs of eyes. "No, no way," came the answer.
With Christ in their lives, Mr. Murray told them, "you can get back on your feet so that you don't come back again."
"Amen," said the little choir of inmates voicing a choice that appears easy behind bars, but that Mr. Murray hopes they will honor when they are released.
Mr. Murray, 64, drives 100 miles every day from his mobile home in Hagerstown to coordinate the Millersville-based ROAD to New Life Ministries Inc., a group of 75 volunteers who hold Bible classes and church services in prisons and provide after care for Anne Arundel County's Christian former offenders.
ROAD (Redeemed Offenders as Disciples) helps link participants with a Christian mentor and helps them find jobs, housing, food and clothing.
Mr. Murray was a teacher and a Protestant pastor in 1971 when he gave his first sermon at a Washington County jail. He says he saw his "calling," quit teaching and has devoted his life to prison ministry.
His responsibilities as ROAD's director since 1995 have been to recruit volunteers and create a network of job, housing and church contacts for former inmates.
Because ROAD is also a member of the international Coalition of Prison Evangelists, Mr. Murray says, he makes such contacts around the world.
But he still squeezes in time to visit and hold Bible study and church services in jails and prisons and serve as a mentor. Committed members of ROAD and former inmates marvel at Mr. Murray's commitment. He and his wife, Darlene, who rides to Millersville every day with Mr. Murray as ROAD's executive secretary, are known as "Mom and Dad Murray."
John A. Schell, ROAD's vice president, says, "I have not seen many people so dedicated to one seam of work like him in a long time. It's his sustained conviction that amazes me."
Randolph W. Burk met Mr. Murray two years ago through ROAD, while serving a one-year sentence for assault. He has been out for a year, has a construction job and plans to start a family with his wife, Suzanne. He says Mr. Murray never judges.
"Sometimes, you have to hit flat-bottom before you look up," he says, "and Reverend Murray was there to help me up."
Mr. Murray says prisoners and their families have a steep hill to climb in turning their lives around. It's a tough world in prison, he says, and it's not much better on the outside, where former inmates face family problems, unemployment and the temptation to return to crime.
Mr. Murray sees a divine hand behind his decision to enter the ministry.
Sitting in his back yard one summer evening in 1964, Mr. Murray says, he asked God to show him a sign if he was to go into the ministry, and he said he saw a red light flash in the sky.
After 28 years of reaching out, Mr. Murray says he is fulfilled and getting tired. But a minister never retires, he says.
He has his children, six grandchildren and a great-grandson, and about 600 other "children," mostly former prisoners, spread over four states.
He says inmates are no different from anyone else: "They're human."
And of his mission in life, Mr. Murray says: "So often we think about building a prison," he says, "but I like to think about building a new person."


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