A Seymour man is helping to change lives — one inmate at a time.
In his normal, everyday work setting, Bill Gray serves as branch manager of Integrity Mortgage Group in downtown Seymour, assisting his clients with purchasing a home. But it’s his involvement with Kairos Prison Ministry that is really making a difference, he said.
Kairos volunteers are trained to bring the message of God’s love, forgiveness and grace to men and women incarcerated in state prison facilities. They also reach out to inmates’ families through the Kairos Outside program and to juvenile offenders through Kairos Torch.
“We have five Saturdays of training for team building and bonding to prepare us to go inside, so when we go inside, we’re like one,” he said.
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Twice a year, Kairos teams visit the prisons, spending four days straight with inmates who sign up and are chosen to participate. Follow-ups are done every Tuesday.
“We don’t get to choose who gets picked,” Gray said of inmates. “It’s God’s plan, but we stay in touch with them. One of the things we tell them is that we’ll never leave them, and we don’t. We keep going back.”
Participating inmates have convictions ranging from being a habitual traffic violator to murder and everything in between, Gray said.
“The majority of them now in our day and age is drugs, which is sad,” he said.
Gray is looking for volunteers to join his team to experience what he describes as a “front-row seat to a miracle.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Kairos and how they can get involved should plan to attend an informational meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Seymour Community Center, 107 S. Chestnut St.
In Seymour, there is a group of about six or eight volunteers that have been to the prison in Plainfield.
Gray said he would like to get more women to participate, too, so they can visit women’s prisons, one of which is in Madison.
“We don’t have a team for Madison because men can’t go into those facilities,” he said. “We need women to get involved.”
But getting people to volunteer to go into a prison and meet with inmates isn’t easy, he said.
“It’s a challenge getting new volunteers because everyone doesn’t want to go into a prison,” he said. “But there are a select few that will, and we just need to find them.”
Greek for “God’s special time,” Kairos is not a Bible study group, Gray said. The program, instead, incorporates a curriculum of promoting positive character and behavior.
During one-on-one and group sessions, participants reexamine the choices they’ve made in life and learn to take responsibility for their actions and move on.
In many cases, inmates graduate and often credit it with “saving them” and helping them successfully transition from prison to society once they are released.
The proof of Kairos’ success is seen in the number of inmates who once released from prison return to their old ways and end up in trouble again.
“The recidivism rate for non-Kairos inmates is about 85 to 95 percent,” Gray said. “For those who have gone through Kairos, it’s down around 25 percent.”
The program also is a way to save money, Gray said.
“It costs the government about a million dollars to keep an offender inside the fence, and our program is free,” he said. “We prepare the offender for being released back into society because eventually, they’re all going to do that unless they’re on death row.”
Gray said he ministered to death row inmates this past year in Michigan City. He has been involved with Kairos since October 2009.
He had a friend in Martinsville who was associated with Kairos who kept calling him by accident when trying to reach someone else.
“He would tell his phone to call this person, and it would dial me,” Gray said. “He mentioned he was working on something with Kairos. By the third call I got from him, I thought someone is trying to tell me something, so I asked him to tell me about this Kairos thing.”
Gray attended a picnic/information meeting in Indianapolis, where he joined the team and has been volunteering ever since.
Kairos was started about 40 years ago in Florida and is now made up of a wide and diverse network of volunteers of varying religious backgrounds all working together to fulfill Christ’s call to action in Matthew 25:36 — “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“It’s a Christian faith ministry started by a couple of guys that went to minister to a couple guys on death row,” Gray said.
The ministry is now in 38 states and nine countries.
“We’re all denominations,” said Gray, who attends Seymour Christian Church and The Alley. “There are Catholics, Lutherans, Methodist, Baptist, non-denominational. The theme we go in with is God’s love, God’s forgiveness and God’s grace because that’s the common theme through all denominations.”
Kairos is available at every prison in Indiana. The group Gray is getting ready to start will visit the Edinburgh Correctional Facility, which is a Level 1 minimum security prison.
“At Plainfield, we have 44 team members that minister to 42 inmates,” he said. “Edinburgh is smaller. Space only permits us to have 24 offenders, so we need 26 volunteers.”
There are 320 inmates at Edinburgh, 33 of which have been through Kairos. At Plainfield, there have been 18 four-day visits and more than 600 inmates who have gone through the program, with 140 who are still incarcerated.
Not only does Kairos change inmates’ lives, it has a deep impact on volunteers, Gray said.
“Sometimes, we get just as much if not more out of it than they do,” he said. “We don’t go in with a set goal of getting so many to see the light or anything like that. That’s not our job. Our job is to just present the message and plant the seed, and it’s God’s job to make it grow.”
Anyone interested in learning more about Kairos and how they can get involved should plan to attend an informational meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Seymour Community Center, 107 S. Chestnut St. Refreshments will be served.