FORT PAYNE, Ala. — An Alabama sheriff may not be freeing inmates at the county jail, but he is working to free their souls.
Nick Welden, the sheriff in DeKalb County, allows inmates in the northeastern Alabama county to attend church services if they want to, WHNT-TV reported.
Welden, who has been in office since January 2019, told the television station that he believes the services are helping to cut down on the number of repeat offenders.
“You know, hey, you can only get one kind of for sure transformation in life. It’s not in jail, it’s not in a rehab clinic or any kind of mental facility or anything,” Welden told WHNT. “The only kind of a real transformation you can get is from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Several inmates said the weekly visits to church have been transformative.
“I was a walking dead girl,” Katina Blanchett told WAAY-TV. “I had no hope. I was a 13-year drug and alcohol addict.
“I told my corrections officer, I said, ‘I’m going to die. I have got to have help.’”
“I was a career criminal,” fellow inmate Sherry Freemen told the television station. “I had been doing drugs since I was 12 years old, and I’m 52, and that’s all I ever knew.”
The DeKalb County Jail houses an average of 300 inmates, according to WHNT. Welden said his department rotates pods of inmates so that all receive the chance to attend.
“If they are here, and they want to go, we want to get them somewhere,” Welden, who is a minister, told the television station.
While Welden is proud of his program, he realizes that critics believe it is an open invitation for inmates to escape or receive contraband.
“What I say to criticism is that I’m not worried about the things I’ve done, but what worries me is the things I have not done,” Welden told WAAY. “So I will stand before the creator one day, and this is going to be one of these things that I done.”
Welden said there are strict security measures in place. Chris Bell, the pastor of Rainsville Church of God, told WAAY that while he has some concerns, he believes the precautions are sufficient.
The inmates are grateful for the chance.
“When you’re in here you’re broken, most people that come in here are on drugs and are just shattered when they come in,” Freeman told WHNT. “And they have no hope. And just for somebody to have a little bit of faith in us, it helps change for real.”
©2022 Cox Media Group