- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Clad in a red-and-white striped jumpsuit, Mary Trevino clutched a worn and ragged Bible, walked through the steel door and scanned the cement block room containing the smiling faces and open arms of volunteers. For the past five months, Trevino has lived within the walls of the Morgan County Jail - a place she called “a blessing.”

“Since coming here, my walk with God has become so strong. It is amazing. I do not want to be in prison, but that is what needed to happen to get me closer to God. Being here has touched me so much and changed my soul. Truly, I have been blessed,” Trevino said.

The “blessing,” Trevino and some of her fellow inmates said, stems from the Neighborhood Christian Center’s faith-based classes on job and life skills, relapse prevention, anger management, parenting, finances, recovering from addiction and dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse.

The nonprofit organization teaches at any place that will open its doors - jails, prisons, recovery centers and homes for troubled teens.

“We walk through any and every door that God opens. We are willing to go anywhere for the opportunity to share the love of God and the chance to provide hope and healing to those that are hurting,” said Pamela Bolding, co-director of the organization with her husband Tim.

The jail ministry, which started as one class eight years ago, has grown into more than 60 classes taught at Morgan County Jail, Decatur Work Release Center, Limestone County Jail, Limestone Prison, Tutwiler Prison, Decatur Dream Center, and the organization’s headquarters. Last year, more than 1,600 attended the classes, 112 committed their lives to Christ and 27 were baptized, including Jorge Medina.

“I gave my life to Jesus in here. He found me and I was baptized. I was so nervous that day because it was a very special day. I can’t thank the NCC enough for what they do in here. They have changed many lives in here. Mine is just one,” said Medina, an inmate at Morgan County Jail.

Within the walls of the jails and prisons, volunteers with the NCC show the inmates acceptance, love and respect.

“I’ve been in other jails and prisons and have battled addiction for 20 years. I tried to fill the emptiness in my life with things other than God. Not until I came to the Morgan County Jail and saw the support from the NCC did I feel like I could change. I have hope again,” inmate Brandy Lovett said. “I was a user; I used drugs and people. My prayer to God is to help me to give back as much as I have taken.”

Since her arrest last March, Lovett immersed herself in the faith-based classes. Her days revolve around prayer, Bible study, Celebrate Recovery, church, learning job skills and resolving relationship issues.

“They are not just locking us up; they are teaching us lessons so that we can do better. They tell us, ‘You can do it, you can succeed and, when you get out, we will be at the door ready to walk this journey with you.’ I feel peace now because of these classes and the women leading them,” Lovett said.

To fund the $30,000 worth of workbooks, study guides and devotionals used in classes every year, the NCC relies on donations and money raised through fundraisers, such as Soup for Souls.

“We never want finances to be the excuse why someone will not attend a class or Bible study, so we give them the needed materials,” Pamela Bolding said.

The eighth annual Soup for Souls, featuring soups and stews from local restaurants, will take place Thursday. The ticket price includes a hand-painted bowl.

Volunteers serve as teachers, mentors, friends, advisers, cheerleaders and prayer warriors. At the end of each course, they hold a celebration for class members and present certificates.

“Getting those 33 certificates made me feel like I was doing something, like I had accomplished something great,” said Danielle Bridges, a former inmate living in the NCC’s Transitional Home.

Many, like Bridges, keep a running tally of certificates they have earned memorized. Medina has 27, Lovett has 24 and Trevino has seven.

Tommy Turner, who started taking courses after Tim Bolding agreed to pay for his GED test, has received more than 50 certificates.

“We had a deal. He would pay for my test, and I would take the class. I agreed because they had food. Little did I know, they trick you to come to the classes with food, but the real prize is God,” Turner said. “Because I am taking these classes, I have built a support system. I know the NCC will be there for me when I get out.”

Beyond the incarceration sites, the NCC holds classes and Bible studies for the community. Trevia Cowley, a former inmate and resident at the Transitional Home, credited the center for providing her with stability and accountability.

“I started taking classes in the jail. I resisted at first. To me, Ms. Pam was just the church lady. I went to the classes for the food, and my life changed. I ended up getting 23 certificates, 23 good graduations and a whole lot of Jesus, thank the Lord,” Cowley said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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