[We Invite You to Scrole Down Through the Following Letters from the President - Letters are presented in order - most recent first]


Words from the ACCA President

Rev. Norma J. Gillom, Chaplain ret. President

Greetings, My Brothers, and Sisters

I am appreciative of the privilege you have given me to service as your president. My prayer for us to move into this new age in correctional chaplaincy with the same goals, same vision, having the courage to listen and the wisdom to act.

ACCA and ACA started out together 151 years ago. We need to work to continue this relationship for another century. Matthews Gospel chapter 25:40, tells us that Jesus teaches the value of all persons-not just those who share his ethnicity, culture, and religion. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. NIV

 As correctional chaplains we serve in unique environments such that our patients, clients, and congregation members are with us from 30 days to the rest of their lives. We serve those who are in hospitals, in hospice, on death row, in jails, those who are juveniles and those who are mentally ill. In addition, we serve correctional officers, corrections staff, security, and all of God’s children no matter their ethnicity, gender, age, cultures, or religion. We are held legally responsible for our services.

 Once again, I thank you and thank God for your confidence in my ability to lead this organization.

The objectives for this season are as follows:

·         Attend Regional meetings

·         Communicate with Agency Superintendents, Commissioners, and religious services administrators

·         Bring back the COP Award (to be presented at the Prayer Breakfast Summer 2022)

·         Continue to attend ACA’s Performance-Based Standards and Expected Practices meetings

·         Continue the relationship with COMISS

·         Attend the Association of Religious Endorser conference (date TBA)

·         Maintain affiliate membership with COMMIS, Association of Religious Endorsers (AREB),

·         Support National Pastoral Care Week (many of our correctional agency celebrate correctional officer and nurses at the same time; our request would be to include the Chaplains division.)

To support ACA by:

·         Serving on committees and/or partnering with committees to bring training and workshops to conferences with attendees to receive CEU and/or agency training hours

·         Submitting articles for publication in Corrections Today (an article can be a collaboration between chaplaincy, security, mental health, medical, etc.)

·         Suggesting topics/ideas for articles in Corrections Today (perhaps a robust article regarding RLUIPA)

·         Suggesting topics/ideas for workshops to be presented at the ACA Winter Conference, January 6-9, 2022 (perhaps a workshop on RLUIPA, a collaboration between Legal Issues Committee and ACCA; or perhaps a workshop on volunteers in prison presented by Prison Fellowship)

Projected Calendar:

September 14,2021 7:00 p.m. Central time Executive Committee via zoom

 ACA Winter Conference, Phoenix, AZ, Thursday to Sunday, January 6-9, 2022.

 ACCA Prayer Breakfast Friday January 7, 2022

ACCA Executive Council Friday January 7, 2022; time and place TBA

ACCA Fellowship Dinner Saturday January 8, 2022

 ACCA worship Service Sunday, January 9, 2022; Time TBA


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President John Tomandl's Letter - November 2020


A Year Unimagined

My dear friends and colleagues, 2020 has been a year of grace, challenge, opportunity, change and new beginnings.  The tradition of a “President’s Letter” to the membership a couple of times a year is just one more tradition that, for now, has been sidetracked by the pandemic.  I am writing today to provide some firsthand information about the ACCA, our goals in the light of the times, why and where we have been this past year, plans for the future of our Association and our affiliation with the American Correctional Association (ACA), of which we are the first affiliate organization dating back to the 19th century.

First, and from a practical standpoint, and most importantly – the dues and fees structure of the ACCA has changed.  The annual dues and renewals of same are $50.00 for professional membership; retired, volunteer, part-time, student or contributing memberships are $25.00.  For ACCA Certification, the fee is $60.00 for the first-time applicant, and $25.00 to renew every five (5) years (this is NOT in lieu of regular, professional membership, but in addition to).  Lifetime professional membership is still an option for $500.00.  For this year only (2020/2021), the dues are being adjusted to bring everyone’s dues into a single cycle.  Full dues will be payable as of April 1st each year rather than on an anniversary date of joining.  Those joining more than six months into the membership year would be charged $25 through the remainder of that year.  All inquiries, payments or questions about fees should be directed to the Treasurer/Membership Chair.

Qualifications for becoming an ACCA officer have been revised for the practical reason that attending annual national conferences is a near impossibility for many, given funding reductions and travel bans. Therefore, serving as an officer in the Association will require only that you have attended at least one regional conference or national conference at any time as a member prior to running for office.  Regional conferences are held annually and in proximity to the majority of members in a given region.  Members will receive information via electronic notification and on the web site –

Annual Conference will still be held in conjunction with the ACA Summer Congress (coming on August 13-17, 2021, in Nashville, TN).  I highly recommend that when these annual events are held proximate to your location, that you try to attend – the workshops and networking opportunities are invaluable!  (Note: membership in the ACA is required to attend but at only $35.00 a year—truly a bargain!—AND, includes weekly electronic updates from around the country, Corrections Today magazine, and timely information on national and regional news as it relates to corrections across all agencies.)

I have served as your President now for almost three years – elections which should have been held this year (2020) having to be postponed due to the pandemic and related challenges to communications, travel and time.  Your Executive Council suggested, and the Executive Committee approved, the suspension of the rules for one year and held the current officers in place.  The one exception was our Treasurer, Rev. Charles Williams (Connecticut), who, since he was elected Treasurer was promoted to Director of Religious Services for the Connecticut Department of Correction, and, simply put, ran out of time for the commitment.  Fortunately for all, Dale Hale (Illinois) was inspired by the Holy Spirit to step forward and assume the mantle.   Chuck did a great  job of setting and integrating the membership software and Dale is doing a fantastic job coming up to speed and has already made some great streamlining changes—those dues and date guidelines I previously referred to.

The ACA Winter Conference was to be held in California in February but has been significantly altered in scope and schedule.  It will be held in Orlando with all but a few major components being held virtually. Details are available (or will be shortly) from the ACA (

I pray that all of you are staying safe and able to function effectively in your ministry of bringing hope and healing to those who are incarcerated.  Don’t forget your colleagues in security and civilian positions who are every bit as much, or more, in harm’s way and are working Heroes – not just now but always!  Please know that you are all in my prayers as I wish you and your families Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year.

Peace and blessings,

Rev. Deacon John D. Tomandl

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association


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President John Tomandl's Letter– November 2019

Hatred and Violence Betray the Sacredness of the Human

Today's rhetoric in the public and political tarnishes the sacredness of the human soul. The environment of news, the workplace, social media and even private discussion is becoming confrontational, even toxic, bringing out the worst of our society so that instead of prison reflecting the worst of society, in many ways it seems to be becoming society reflecting the worst in our prisons!

Chaplains have long had to deal with the bad language, foul tempers, anger and dishonesty of the inmate population. In turn, the very atmosphere in which security and civilians work inside of correctional facilities has long brought out the worst in human nature; if not in outright bad behavior, then in poor attitudes, loss of self-esteem and the sense of anger that often carries out of the facility and back into the larger society within the families where staff go home to each day.

On average, correctional officers and labor/technical staff have in the past indicated the lowest levels of support for inmate rehabilitation and tended to adopt a more favorable attitude toward retribution and punitive behaviors. In contrast, health care professionals, programs staff and supervisors/managers reported the most support of inmate rehabilitation. Prior research from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) found similar results, as newly hired treatment and clerical staff recognized better than correctional officers that staff support of treatment programs impacts inmate rehabilitation outcomes, and that staff actions and interactions with others can make a correctional facility a more positive, rehabilitation-focused, health-enhancing environment (Antonio, Young and Wingeard, 2009; Antonio, Young and Wingeard, forthcoming).

Employee morale is a significant factor in creating a good or bad work environment. Morale influences the attitude, behavior, choices, beliefs and actions of an individual, and it also can determine the environment. I am defining morale as the soul of a person or group that is either positive and hopeful or negative and hopeless - it affects confidence, discipline, attitudes, behavior and a willingness to perform assigned tasks. Morale also symbolizes a dedicated spirit which unifies individuals toward a common goal (, 2003). Clearly, morale is an emotional state which joins employees together in a shared mission in order to achieve organizational goals. The organization consists of a synchronized social unit, formed to operate uninterrupted in order to perform universal objectives (Freeman, 1999).

The chaplain can, and SHOULD, be the person/office that helps to bring up morale to a higher, more positive level. This is a calling that inherently demands that expectations of action and thought can, and MUST, be clearly defined. The staff, as well as the inmates, must be able to see in the Chaplain an example of a positive attitude deploying encouragement and a call to a higher awareness of, and actions reflective of, more positive moral action by everyone.  The ACCA Code of Ethics calls for chaplains to uphold and display the highest personal, professional and ethical standards of conduct.

Past President, Vance Drum, once said that, "After many years in the field, I can tell you I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’ll note three big ones:

1. Not Pacing Yourself

2. Not Managing Your Program Meetings

3. Not Developing Helpful Relationships with Staff"

I do not think that I can offer any better advice than to remind us all of Vance's words!

The basic qualities of the human can always be overcome and the true nature of humankind, the sacred beings encapsulated in our mortal bodies, that God created, can show forth if we exercise self-control, and positive thinking.  Always (I MEAN ALWAYS) in each and every situation, we need to have a prayerful approach where we encounter with the reality that we are the voice of Grace and Reason and Kindness in a sea of fear, anger, hostility and negative images. In 2014, the following acronym/acrostic appeared on the internet suggesting that everyone consider what they were about to e-mail or discuss with anyone before acting: T.H.I.N.K.:

T - is it True?
H - is it Helpful?
I - is it Inspiring?
N - is it Necessary?
K - is it Kind?

We must remind others by our actions each day that everyone is a person ... created by God  ... s/he may have done bad things but the perpetrator is still just a person ... staff members are just people - sometimes tired, scared or angry - but still just a person. On my worst day, I was still a person and on my best day, I am still a person. Persons ALL need respect even when they don't give it; love, even when they can't or won't give it; encouragement, even when they appear hopeless; and forgiveness even when unforgiving.

Please don't forget that as Chaplains we are not better than anyone else, we are not God, nor are we exempt from the struggles and temptations that confront all persons; however, we are called to model that in spite of human weakness, the true nature of humankind is capable of touching the face of God.

If we think that our work will take care of itself, we are at the leading edge of insanity. Without diligent and constant planning, willingness to change, and, awareness of needs, no program will succeed for very long. Also, never forget that success without successors is failure! How have the programs and practices that have brought peace and self-worth to the inmates and staff at the facility been empowered to continue and thrive into the future?

In general, the staffs that we work with are focused on only one aspect of the life of the incarcerated people in the facility or the work lives of the staff themselves. Administration, program, support and security staffs all have specific functions but broad and overlapping needs. If the Chaplain is focused solely on the inmates, the outcome will be that "s/he's an inmate lover" model of Chaplain. A model, which, I might add, has never produced change, rehabilitation, support - OR - change in anyone's attitude or self-image.

Do not succumb to the temptation that you work alone; do not give into the temptation to change who you are to fit the profile of the rest of the staff; rather, continue to bring hope, encouragement and support to EVERYONE in the facility; regardless of the uniform they wear. Focus on becoming the person that God created you to be and to be doing the work that God has prepared in advance for you to be doing. AMEN!



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President John Tomandl's Letter– April 2019

"I Have Carved You on the Palm of My Hand"

Last year, President O’Dell wrote, “If we take a moment to look around us it will not take long for us to observe the "craziness" of the world.  The sectarian spirit (party spirit) is oh so common and we human beings somehow feel compelled to add our two-cents to this view or that one.  This plays into the hand of a darker spirit that drives a wedge between men.  Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘… a house divided against itself cannot stand.’”

We (US) must not be swayed by the influences of evil … the temptation to despair is strong and the goal of democracy is always far off (seemingly).  Those in the work of incarceration in the criminal justice system are especially tempted to become jaded or despair and often can react in ways that play into the plan of evil.  The chaplain and religious volunteer is often alone in voicing encouragement and standing for mercy, forgiveness and faith.  The entire correctional community (security and civilian as well as administration and agency leadership) can become defiant in the face of evil’s onslaught trying to get into the hearts of those hired and sworn to protect and ensure just treatment of those who have been incarcerated with the intent to re-habilitate and return good citizen’s to society.

For the inmate, the Chaplain and religious volunteer is often left to try to introduce hope to people who have lost hope and encourage them to believe in a God of mercy and forgiveness that has had no mercy on them, and they experience no forgiveness of their understandable resentments and fears.  In fact, frequently the Chaplains and volunteers face resentment from staff members who see them as ‘inmate lovers’ and/or ‘do gooders’ who waste their time on inmates and perpetrators of crimes instead of where they perceive the efforts should rightly be directed: to the victims of crime.

For the staff, Chaplains can often be in the middle of families (both inmate and staff), the security staff and administration and sometimes the Chaplain’s own faith community.  Each one, understandably, wants certain outcomes in the world of corrections.  The Chaplains are often the ones who have to find a way to maintain security, bring hope to the hopeless, give reassurance to the fearful, assure the administration that they will let them know of any ‘rumblings’, and satisfy their endorsing authority that they are bringing an orthodox view point to the inmates.

When I began my career, the first thing that I noticed was that the atmosphere of the facility often invaded people’s thinking … people who you would meet and interact with outside, were different inside.  Some of that can certainly be due to the need for increased awareness but some of it is clearly due to the influence of truly evil forces that everyday try to unhinge and upset the environment.  And I am not necessarily trying to say that spiritual forces are at work, though that is the nature of my belief system and my faith, but evil also in the mental illness that is wide spread, emotional instability and the stress on the work force.

One of the most important assets to a correctional facility is the chaplain and the religious volunteers.  Regardless of any individual’s view of religion or the spiritual elements of life, the moral value, the code of conduct and the justice of surrendering one’s present to the good of the future, are common themes of all major (and most minor) religious communities.  And we are never alone!  The Tora in the Book of Isiah has the words of hope that God has your back

– Is 49 [I have carved you on the palm of My hand]


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President Tim O'Dell's Letter Number 2 February 2018

President's Letter, February 5, 2018 - "Do not cooperate with the dark side!"


If we take a moment to look around us it will not take long for us to observe the "craziness" of the world.  The sectarian spirit (party spirit) is oh so common and we human beings somehow feel compelled to add our two-cents to this view or that one.  This plays into the hand of a darker spirit that drives a wedge between men.  Someone once said: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."


As Chaplains we are supposed to be practitioners of the art of being the presence of Christ… or the presence of a quiet and calming spirit.  If we fall prey to the "party" spirit we may become a source of division, or at least contributing to it, rather than a promoter of peace.


As Chaplains in pluralistic settings we are called to demonstrate the truth of our individual traditions by the way we live and conduct ourselves, by treating our fellow man with respect, kindness, compassion, and mercy.  These attributes help Chaplains become bridges between divisions… paving the way for communication and focusing on those things we share in common.


Ask anyone if he or she loves their family.  It is rare indeed to get anything but an affirmative response. Ask anyone if they want to be a blessing or a burden to those they hold dear… and you will hear their desire to be a blessing in all but the most-rare of circumstances. 


Such questions create opportunities to explore the ways and means to produce the desired outcomes, focusing on others and not ourselves.  These discovery moments are rich in hope and promise. 


The work of the prison chaplain has been to hold out hope… to point out the value of every human being… and to help individual's discover options for a brighter tomorrow.


Let me then ask, "Chaplain, who and what do those you serve see when they look at you?"  Each of us have an obligation to frequently visit the mirror, not to examine our appearance, but to honestly examine our own hearts.   There is a story about a plank and a log that most of us remember.  Help me to have no log in my eye that I may see to help others with their splinter.


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President Tim O'Dell's Letter Number 1 August 2017

President’s Letter - August 2017 “Times: they are a’ changing!”

The American Correctional Chaplain’s Association (ACCA) has a long and distinguished heritage. Chaplains played a major role in the establishment of the American Correctional Association (then the National Prison Association) and have long stood in support of the institutions and agencies we serve, and with compassionate pastoral care toward those in our charge–men and women who have come to a major crossroads in life.

Now we come to a new era where attendance at national conventions is waning (for a variety of reasons) and to a new sense of independence where membership and engagement is not seen as important as it once was. We are living in the age of social media and communication without personal engagement. In the past, networking meant going to regional and national conferences, developing face to face relationships, and building one’s network. Today, networking is tied to social media, Facebook, Linked-In, Tweeter, Instagram, and other means of getting connected. This reality presents us with a new challenge.

How do we connect with the next generation of correctional chaplains? How do we become relevant in an age of irrelevance? Clearly, we must communicate in their language. But how does this mandate to change the way we connect impact our mission?

From my perspective, engaging in the support of chaplains in the field, focusing on their needs, and utilizing social media and today’s networking methods will be necessary to maintain relevance–or regain it.

Once, an education could only be obtained by traveling to a central campus, attending classes, and staying the course over a period of years. Today, one can complete undergraduate and graduate programs without ever setting

foot on the campus. This trend is continuing and now involves secondary and primary education. On the horizon is the day where traditional schools may cease to exist in favor of the virtual classroom.

We have to make attendance (connectedness) via electronic means an acceptable standard, rather than the exception, if we are to engage younger chaplains. We have to offer workshops and other “professional enhancement” via the web - rather than only available at a conference.

The Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, Association of Professional Chaplains, Institute of Clinical Pastoral Training and others have established “distance learning” approaches for Clinical Pastoral Education much to the consternation of those holding fast to the old school way of doing things. The question is not so much the method but the outcomes. Are those trained in this fashion well equipped to do the work? Time will tell.

My opinion, and I state it as such, is that unless we change we will see the slow but certain demise of organizations such as ACCA. And that, my friends, would be a sad and tragic outcome.

My recommendation is that we work with all diligence to effect real and lasting change in our approaches, services, and means of engagement. Then ACCA will have the opportunity to continue our mission to promote, encourage, equip, and enhance correctional chaplaincy.

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President Vance Drum’s Letter Number 8 – January 2017


The Power of Positive Peers: 

Utilizing Offender Volunteers in a Comprehensive Chaplaincy Program


Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President – American Correctional Chaplains Association


When I first came to Texas’ notorious 100-year-old Eastham Prison in 1985, there was already in place a structure for utilizing offender volunteers in the chapel program.  My Eastham predecessor, Emmett Solomon (later our Director of Chaplains), used a rationale that had to do with successful reintegration—reentry—into society. 


Knowing that 95% of all offenders in our state will be released from prison one day, he wanted them to be familiar with the functions of a house of worship.  As we said in those days, he wanted them to know how to “do church.”  How did this work?


Every Thursday night a service was held in which offenders read Scripture, led in prayers, led congregational worship songs, gave testimonies, sang in the choir, read announcements provided by the chaplain, and brought a Scripture message.  The chaplain was always present (along with a security officer), and said a few words as well.  The service was always highly structured and well-attended, with a capacity 200 nearly always in attendance.  A great number of offenders participated by standing up periodically to speak or sing. 


In addition to the Thursday worship service, on Sunday a number of offenders selected by the chaplain facilitated a discipleship program of Scripture study.  This program was the best-attended of any chaplaincy program, since we met in a number of Education Department classrooms—capacity 250. 


Once I asked my mentor Solomon, who came to Eastham as its first chaplain in 1967, when he had started Sunday School there.  He said, “I didn’t start Sunday School.  It was already going when I arrived.”  I replied, “Who started it?”  He indicated that a building major in the 1960s told some inmates to go to an Education Department classroom, take their Bibles with them and “get some sense.”  The chaplain and a security officer were present. 


When Chaplain Solomon left Eastham in 1985 to become our Director of Chaplains, I was hired to follow him.  I saw the value of the offender volunteer facilitation he had nurtured, and we continued it.  So, what was, and what is, the value of offender ministry, and how can it be successful?


I. Offender Volunteer Utilization Assists Spiritual Growth


Offender volunteers in a chapel program helps those offenders develop spiritually and personally.  Like a muscle which is exercised, an offender who exercises his or her spiritual gift grows stronger in faith.  A muscle which is not exercised will atrophy.  In a similar way, offenders who are not active in the development of their God-given gifts tend to be stunted in their spiritual growth. 


Offender facilitation creates a sense of buy-in to the program.  If offenders participate only by passive listening, the road to maturity that comes through preparation and activation of one’s spiritual gift will not be present.  At the same time, offenders who are respected and listened to by their peers in the offender population become effective agents for positive change in the prison’s culture.


II. Culture Transformation via a Cadre of Leaders


Every institution has informal offender leaders.  In the Kairos program the institution’s negative leaders—non-chapel participants—are selected to go through a voluntary Kairos weekend.  All the gangsters and wannabe gangsters we can find who are still walking around are invited (42 limit).  The purpose is to give them a different perspective on life—even on prison life.  The program works. 


The idea is that if the institution’s natural—or self-made—leaders begin to see life and relationships from a prosocial perspective, producing positive change in offender behavior, we have succeeded in one aspect of our mission.  When non-chapel participant offenders see the change in behavior of their former negative leaders, those transformed leaders have a positive impact on the culture of the facility.


In a similar way, the chaplain selects offender service volunteers as part of a comprehensive chapel program who do their work under the authority and guidance of the facility chaplain.  The power of positive peers begins to be seen.  Who are these facilitators, and what do they do?


III. Offender Chapel Volunteers


There are several aspects of service for which offenders may volunteer in a well-rounded chaplaincy program.  Here are a few:



The chapter in the state’s Chaplaincy Department Manual titled “Offender Volunteer Service” outlines the policies and procedures for this volunteer service. All offender volunteer chapel activity is done under the supervision of the chaplain.  The chaplain authorizes each person, by chaplain and offender volunteer signature, on an Offender Volunteer Service Form.  The chaplain may select choir members by audition.  The chaplain authorizes the songs the choir sings.  The choir is always an excellent training ground for spiritual growth not only in singing harmoniously but also by facilitating harmonious interpersonal relationship growth.


Message Presenters complete not only the Offender Volunteer Service Form but also a Message Presentation Form which outlines his or her message.  The form is given to the chaplain for review at least seven days prior to the worship service during which the message is to be presented.  In the case of offenders who may facilitate a Scripture text class or other series of classes with a printed curriculum, the offender volunteer follows the curriculum, so no additional message form is required.  


How can this work?  For someone who’s never seen this in action, it may be a scary thought.  There are two required chaplain functions which make it work well:  (1) Selection of offender volunteers, and (2) Management of offender volunteers.


IV. Selection of Offender Volunteers


It’s important to select offender volunteers in a careful and deliberate manner.   Criteria should include:



V. Management of Offender Volunteers


In addition, a successful Offender Volunteer policy and practice must be actively managed by the chaplain.  Here are some effective management suggestions:


Purposes of the offender volunteers’ meeting:  (a) Hear offender impressions of each group experiencing offender ministry; (b) Troubleshoot any challenges; (c) Chaplain provide prison culture-changing vision to the group; (d) Build a sense of teamwork in the task of transforming the prison culture.


VI. Field Ministry Program


Beginning in 2011 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice began a Field Ministry program at the maximum security Darrington prison near Houston.  The 4½-year training program is facilitated by a free world theological seminary, and concludes with an accredited Bachelor of Arts degree in ministerial studies.  The program is privately funded; there is no cost to the offender or to the state.  The program trains long-term offenders to be Field Ministers, which, upon graduation, becomes their full-time prison job. 


The first graduating class was in 2015.  Two classes, with 66 total graduates, are now in the field in 13 prisons in Texas.  About 33 offenders are expected to graduate annually, dispersing each year to about six prisons, until all of the 108 prisons in Texas have a small group of trained offender Field Ministers.  Preliminary reports from the first two years of Field Ministry are that the graduates are having a salutary effect in their places of assignment. 


The Field Minister job description includes the aspects of offender volunteer service noted above and in the Chaplaincy Department Manual, but it also includes many other aspects of ministry, including but not limited to:


Field Ministers work under security supervision at all times.  Field Ministers do not replace but assist under the authority of medical and psychological staff professionals, for example, in hospice, hospital and suicide watches. 


The Texas program—initiated by both Democratic and Republican leadership in the Texas legislature—was modeled (with some modification) after the Louisiana experience.  The seminary program in Louisiana—conducted for the past 15+ years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola—has had a demonstrably great and positive impact on the Angola culture. 


Byron Johnson, Ph.D., and other researchers at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion have recently (2016) published their findings on the Angola prison seminary in “The Angola Prison Seminary:  Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation.”1 Dr. Johnson et al are now doing a similar study of the Texas seminary experience.


Over the course of 30 years the Eastham Prison changed dramatically for the better.  There are many factors which contributed to the change, but a well-managed offender volunteer corps was a significant part of the prison culture’s transformation. 





1 Johnson, Byron; Hallett, Michael; Hays, Joshua; Jang, Sung Joon; Duwe, Grant.  The Angola Prison Seminary:  Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation.  Routledge Innovations in Corrections, 2016.  1st Edition.  264 pp.

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 American Correctional Chaplains Association


President Vance Drum’s Letter Number 7 – July 2016


Mistakes Chaplains Make:  Growing Edges in Ministry


Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President – American Correctional Chaplains Association


In this letter I’d like to visit with you about mistakes we make in correctional chaplain ministry.  Mistakes short-circuit our ministry both to offenders and staff. 


After many years in the field, I can tell you I’ve made lots of mistakes.  I’ll note three big ones:


              1. Not Pacing Yourself

              2. Not Managing Your Program Meetings

              3. Not Developing Helpful Relationships with Staff



1. Not Pacing Yourself


After the Reduction In Force (RIF) of 2003 in my state (Texas), I found myself working harder and longer, and, at the same time, getting farther and farther behind.  We had lost 40% of our chaplaincy corps (from 154 chaplains down to 93) for our 150,000 offenders and 40,000 staff.  My 2,400-man maximum security prison had gone from having three chaplains to one. 


I talked with my Director of Chaplains at the time about my feelings, and my weariness.  He said to me, “Vance, you did not ask for this situation.  You didn’t pray for or wish for it.  You’re in this for the long haul.  Do your eight hours of daily work, and go home.  Take care of yourself.” 


What a relief to hear those words from my supervisor!  I had been feeling guilty, but after he spoke with me, I felt at peace with the steady, not breakneck, level of my work.  Realizing I wasn’t in a sprint but a marathon, I persevered at the Eastham Prison for 28 years.  Some of the greatest blessings came even after the RIF. 



2. Not Managing Your Program Meetings


When I came to my 100-year-old prison, the chapel program—our meetings—were completely out of order.  Here were some signs of the disorder:


              1. Not many offenders came to the chapel.

              2. Of those who came, about half were there for the wrong reasons.

              3. Many wanted to come but did not, not wanting to be associated with more crime.

              4. Trafficking and trading was happening.

              5. Sexual activity was going on here and there.

              6. Voting on whether to do a gang hit was being conducted—passing a yes/no ballot.

              7. Offenders were carrying on their own conversations/meetings during the program.

              8. Volunteers were unhappy with the disrespect they sensed and saw.

              9. The whole prison knew the chapel was out of order.


How to manage such an out of control situation? 


When I first came as a new chaplain, I was not pleased with what I saw.  Every week I put 2, 3, or 4 offenders out of the chapel during the worship service, mostly for talking and not obeying my order to stop. 


Soon the word got around the prison that the new chaplain was not tolerating the illegal activity.  The ones I put out did not return.  Other offenders, who wanted to worship and learn, began to come.  They were thankful for the new sense of order.  They finally had a worshipful, learning environment. 


I did not begin an action, however, with putting people out.  Here was my management technique, which I continued during my entire time as a facility chaplain:


              1. I stood at the back of the chapel and observed.

              2. If I was at the front, I also observed.

              3. My #1 rule:  There are no legal meetings in the chapel except the one I’ve called.

              4. When I saw someone talking to another during the program/service, I quietly went to them and gave them the universal sign that means “be quiet”—index finger over my lips. No word was spoken.  They always complied. 

              5. I then returned to the back and observed.

              6. If the ones I had quieted began talking again, I asked the security officer to watch me.  Then I quietly went back over to them, and, using my index finger, motioned for one of them to come with me.  Not a word was spoken.

              7. We went to the back and the other side of the chapel to an empty chair, and I quietly said, “Sit here.”  I never explained why; he knew why. 

              8. If he refused, I never argued with an inmate.  I brought him into my office at the back, with the security officer present with me.  I said, “You can sit in that chair, or you can get a disciplinary case for creating a disturbance, and leave.”  End of story.  Nearly all sat down, separated from his pal. 

              9. I’ve used the word “quietly” several times.  My manner was gentle but firm.  I did not act in a confrontational way with an offender.

              10. If I was preaching or teaching at the front, and observed an ongoing conversation, I would often stop, get their attention, and put my index finger to my lips.  Then, carry on.


Think about this.  If all offenders in a chapel program were allowed to carry on their own meeting, quietly talking while the program was going on, it would be chaos in the chapel. 

Chaplains must manage their program meetings.  Your chapel population will appreciate you for it.  If the meetings are not managed well, the environment will not be transformative, nor worshipful, nor conducive to study and learning, and the program will be damaged or destroyed.



3. Not Developing Helpful Relationships with Staff


In the beginning of my ministry (1980s), unbelievably, chaplains were instructed in our trainings not to minister to the staff.  The reason given:  it was not in our job description.


One day, many years later, a new prison Director asked the Director of Chaplains why it seemed to him that the chaplains did not have much to do with the staff.   When the prison Director heard that we were instructed not to do staff ministry, the prison chief said, “What?!  You have got to be kidding!  Change that today!”  The policy was changed immediately.


In those days I had no problem not ministering to the staff in my prison.  I did not like the staff, and they did not much like me.  I believed they were ministry obstructionists who reveled in their attitude of “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”  They did not seem to want to help inmates, and did not care for anyone who was trying to help.


My standoffish, even antagonistic, attitude toward the staff was a huge mistake.  I learned about my mistake through the kind and gentle words of a warden, during one of my annual performance evaluations.  God spoke through the warden when he said:  “Chaplain, do you know that my staff needs you?”  I thought about it, and said, “No sir, I don’t.”  He did not act surprised.  He replied, in a pastoral manner, “Well, let me tell you.  My staff needs you.” 


Wow.  I had never heard that.  At first, I didn’t believe it.  He asked me to start paying attention to his staff.  I did. 


The next day, God seemed to say to me:  “Vance, I want you to go to all the mid-level security managers in this prison (the ones I disliked the most) and apologize to them for ignoring them for the past 10 years.”  I did that too.  They had mostly minimalist responses.  My attitude changed, and, shortly, my ministry to all in the prison began to change for the better.


Get to know your staff.  Do not ignore them.  Ask them how they’re doing.  Listen to what they say.  They all—as well as the offenders—have deep needs and problems which need your confidential, listening ear and your empathic response.  Your pastoral care to staff will bless not only your ministry but your institution.



Vance L. Drum is the Director of Chaplaincy Operations,

Texas Department of Criminal Justice.


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ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number Six [December 2015]

Rev. Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association

Director of Chaplaincy, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

American Correctional Chaplains Association



  I usually don’t forward news articles, but this one is significant for us at ACA.  Brad Livingston received the ACA’s highest award, the E. R. Cass, in 2015 I believe, and is chair of the ACA Standards Committee.  Under his leadership Texas received ACA’s Golden Eagle award, with all 109 of our prisons and central offices being ACA-accredited.  He served as our Executive Director (Commissioner, #1 leader) since 2004—longest of any Texas Executive Director in my memory. He led us through prison culture transformation with an emphasis on treatment.  During his tenure, our recidivism rate fell to 21%, down from 84% in 1989 (after three years out), closed three prisons, and our prison population has begun to decline.  Forgive me:  I think a lot of him, and we will miss him.



The Houston Chronicle

By Mike Ward, 4:20 pm, Friday, April 15, 2016  


AUSTIN -- Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who has led the nation's largest state corrections agency through a transition over 12 years to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation programs, announced Friday he will retire in August.

Livingston, who started his state career as a budget analyst, was named to head the 38,000-employee, 147,000-convict system in July 2005, after joining the prisons and parole agency eight years earlier as deputy director of financial services.

During his tenure, the agency has gone from a primary emphasis on punishment ramped up by the Texas Legislature during the 1990s to a stronger focus on treatment and rehabilitation programs  designed to cut recidivism.

Livingston's tenure also included the closure of three state prisons, the first shuttered by the state in more than a century.

No replacement has been named, officials said.

"While this role has its challenges, I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented criminal justice staff in the nation," Livingston said in a statement announcing his retirement. "These are the unsung heroes who perform demanding, often dangerous, and always critical functions for the state of Texas."

Dale Wainwright, chairman of the agency's nine-member governing board, said "there's hardly an area within the TDCJ that has not been affected by (Livingston's) leadership.

"He never backed away from a challenge but addressed them head on," Wainwright said. "His legacy reflecting exemplary service to the people of the state will be felt for many years to come."

Without elaborating, Wainwright said he expects Livingston's replacement to be named soon.

The agency, which operates the largest state prison system in the nation, has an operating budget of more than $3 billion  and is responsible for more than 87,000 individuals released from prison on parole or mandatory supervision. It also oversees adult probation departments that provide direct supervision to 245,000 individuals on community supervision, plus the 147,000 convicts in 109 state prisons.

========================== END ============================


Leaning on the Door:  Relating Effectively to Leadership



What do you do as a chaplain when the door seems closed to positive change in criminal justice policy and practice?


You wait.


But it’s important to realize that waiting does not mean being inactive. 


There are at least seven components to promoting positive change when opportunities for change seem remote: 


(1) Doing your job well;           

(2) Relating to your current leadership;

(3) Leaning on the door;

(4) Valuing teamwork;

(5) Educating the people;

(6) Faith-friendly leadership;

(7) Perseverance.



I. Doing Your Job Well


When the chaplain drove up for work at the old prison in 1985, there was not much of a welcome party to greet him.  It was a maximum security prison where the modus operandi seemed to be, “Prisoners are criminals who don’t deserve programs to make them better.  Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” 


Our forward-looking Chaplaincy Central Office in those days was trying to tell us:  Do some marriage seminars.  Do some family-friendly programs.  Do some rehabilitative and reentry ministry which will help offenders not only when they are released but also while they are incarcerated.


The answer from the old-school wardens of 30 years ago?  “No.”  No explanation, just no. 


So, what does a chaplain do when the administrators deny your requests for helpful programming? 


Do the best you can at what you are authorized to do.  Interact in helpful ways with offenders and staff.  Become a friendly and pastoral presence with the staff.  Guide offenders into the rehabilitative programming that is approved—limited as it may be.  Facilitate and conduct meaningful worship services.  Be a pastoral counselor for offenders—individually and in groups.


Do everything in your power to be the best chaplain you can be.  Establish your reputation—by consistent, dedicated work—as a professional chaplain who demonstrates integrity, pastoral care for all, and increasingly effective skills to make a difference in the lives of those you serve.



II. Relating to Your Current Leadership


While you are waiting for positive change to come, doing your job well, pay attention to working on your relationship with your retro leadership.  Ask yourself:  Why is my administrator so opposed to good programs which could promote positive change in offender behavior? 


The answer may be that the administrator has never seen what good programs can do.  He or she may have no vision for such change.  Wardens are products of their environment and their training.  If their social and training environment is limited, you must work with what you’ve got.


So, how do you work with a warden who would rather not have much of a chaplain?  You may have to work very little with such a person, but some contact is necessary for building a positive—if limited—relationship. 


Go by the warden’s office every morning and say hello to all who are there.  If only an administrative assistant is present, say hello.  If the warden is in, wave a friendly greeting.  If the warden wants to see you, he or she will call you in.  By being present and visible, you let everyone know that you are on the facility, and that you are available if any special need arises. 


Periodically, ask to have a brief sit down visit with the warden to let him know what you are doing.  Often a brief written summary of your activity is helpful.  The warden may place it in a file so that he can have some talking points when his supervisor asks what the chaplain is doing.  Take care to write your report with good grammar, with bullets or other easy-to-read format. 


Wardens do not like surprises, so your efforts to inform will normally be well received.  Do not stay in the warden’s office long, unless he wants to talk. In that case, stay as long as he is talking. 


Respond empathically—letting the warden know that you hear, you understand, and you understand the depth of feeling with which he is speaking.  Make a serious attempt to connect with your administrator on common ground—asking about his family and what he likes to do when he’s off (hunting, fishing, ballgames?).  When you feel comfortable doing so, you may ask him or her about their faith. 



III. Leaning on the Door


While you are doing a good job with all of the pastoral care for staff and offenders in your facility, you are also doing something called “leaning on the door.” 


Sometimes the door is closed.  But closed doors are still doors, and sometimes they open.  They will open more readily if someone is leaning on it.


Leaning on the door is meant to indicate—in a figure of speech—gentle promotions of the chaplain’s vision for more effective, restorative, rehabilitative and reentry programming which will be a blessing to all in the institution. 


The chaplain knows that such programming will promote positive, prosocial change in offender behavior.  If the door is currently closed, lean on it in such a manner that your administrators know your vision, while at the same time not demanding action which threatens your administrator’s position as “the boss.” 


How does this work?  When you receive a directive or suggestion from your central office, let the warden know about it, and let him know that you would like to bring it to him and visit with him about it sometime.  Ask him if that would be alright.  The warden will normally reply yes, even if he has an initial, reflexive resistance to central office directives.  When you see the warden, talk about the program in a non-threatening manner.  Assure him that the program has been done in other places (if it has been), that you will train and supervise the people involved, and that you will be responsible for the outcome of the program.


Another aspect of leaning on the door has to do with prayer.  (Chaplains are religious or spiritual people, and we should pray about all sorts of things all the time.)  If your warden is recalcitrant, pray about it.  Sometimes it may be necessary to pray a stubborn and resistant administrator out of his office.  The administrator will not be where he is forever.  Prayer can help move him along.



IV. Valuing Teamwork


Normally, a facility chaplain cannot do the whole job that needs to be done.  There may be structural, systemic changes in leadership that need to happen for the doors of opportunity for effective programs to open most widely.  There may be things to be done and things to be said that are better done and said by persons outside the organization. 


Several years ago in my state there was a Legislative Budget Board (LBB) proposal to eliminate the entire chaplaincy department (120 chaplains) statewide, due to “budget constraints.”  Whether it was a “trial balloon” or a serious proposal is unclear.  (“Trial balloons” become serious when there is no pushback.)  Things could have gone either way.


At that time, however, the Team swung into action.  Who was the Team?  They were 23,000 recognized, trained, on-the-Agency-computer but outside-the-Agency volunteers.  As soon as the LBB proposal became public, legislators’ phone lines lit up with thousands of incoming calls, fax machines were jammed, emails flooded in, and much knocking on the door of legislative offices saved the day.  When legislators’ office aides saw the volunteers coming, the visitors didn’t have to say much before the aide replied, “Thank you for coming.  We’ve been flooded with your request.  I’ll let the representative know you were here with your concern for the chaplains.”  Within 30 days, chaplains were back in the budget proposal with 100% funding. 


The team does not have to be huge.  But there needs to be an active team that strategically spreads the word about constituent concerns. 



V.  Educating the People


It is normally the case that people do what they do because they believe what they believe.  If the administrators in your state reflect the views of the people in their state, expressed earlier (“Prisoners are criminals who don’t deserve programs to make them better.  Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”), then you know there is a need for education. 


In my state a volunteer networking group, the Restorative Justice Ministry Network of Texas, was founded in 1994 for the purpose of networking restorative justice ministry volunteers, and educating the people of our state on the best way forward in criminal justice.


One of their good mottos was “Smart on Crime.”  We’ve always been tough on crime in our state—we built so many prisons in the 1990s to accommodate our crime problem.  But to be smart on crime, looking for more helpful ways to divert people from prison to effective treatment—especially faith-based treatment—was something we had to work on. 


A former Director of Chaplains and RJMN founder, Emmett Solomon, worked with a dedicated, faith-filled ex-offender, Bill Kleiber, and an administrative assistant, Anita Parrish, to blanket the state with education.  Emmett and (now RJMN Executive Director) Bill would speak anywhere folks would listen—to civic groups, church groups, criminal justice administrators, local governmental groups, and at legislative hearings to let people know there is a more cost effective and humanly effective way to deal with crime than warehousing people in prisons.


This ongoing 20-year educational effort has paid off, and today—though much work still needs to be done—there has been a seismic shift in attitudes in our state.  Republicans and Democrats tend to fight over everything, but to be smart on crime—working toward restoring peace—is a movement which has brought legislators together in common cause.



VI. Faith-Friendly Leadership


Not much good happens without helpful, faith-friendly leadership which facilitates positive, prosocial change.  In my state the composition of the legislature dramatically changed in the 1990s.  The outcome was a body which wanted to promote faith-friendly programs in the criminal justice system. 


The prisons in the past had been closed societies where community volunteers were not much welcomed.  However, the legislators passed legislation mandating that wardens report to the legislature how they were working to recruit community volunteers to assist with rehabilitative programming.  Policy and procedures were put in place to train and supervise volunteers.   For the past 25 years, the volunteers have been bringing great change for the better to the prisons.


The recidivism rate during that time (after three years out of prison) dropped from 84% to 21%.


The governor of the state appoints the state prison Board members.  The governor—a man of religious faith himself—over time appointed all nine members, and he appointed in each instance faith-friendly Board members.  The Board selects the prison’s executive director—also a man of faith—who has been in his position long enough to see great change.  And great change has come. 


The prison’s faith-friendly executive leadership has filtered down into the ranks of the facility wardens and their staffs.  The wardens used to be selected based on their “warrior” status (who was the meanest and toughest man around).  Now wardens are selected who can best manage their populations, and turn out a better person upon release from prison than when they entered. 


The old-school warden the chaplain encountered in 1985 is seldom seen.  If any are still around, they do not get promoted.



VII. Perseverance


Many unpleasant things were done and said to the chaplain in the years following his entry into chaplaincy in 1985.  It was the way it was.  Chaplains, however, do not get their kudos from people; we get ours from a Higher Power—from the Almighty.  We have developed thick skins.  To be a warden, for a chaplain, would be a demotion.  To be left out of the warden’s team is counterproductive, but sometimes it happens. 


It always helps to realize that things will not always be the way they are today.  With perseverance, and faith in God, things have changed for the better in my environment.  If the legislative and executive leadership does not change much, at least the environment will be blessed around you because you are there.


I spent nearly 28 years in my facility as a chaplain.  After 10 years of fruitful ministry with offenders, but not much headway with administrators, a new warden showed up.  He said to me, on his first day at the prison, “Chaplain, what kind of programs you got going on here?” When he learned we had very few, he said, “Well, that’s going to change.  Get me some programs!” 


I did, and the old, violent throw-back prison I entered at the start began to change at a more rapid pace.  The next 18 years—because I stayed—were much more fruitful than the first 10. 


If a chaplain is active in productive ministry, longevity is a plus.  You tend to outlive your adversaries.  More Power to you as you lean on the door.


========================== END ============================

ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number Five

Rev. Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association

Director of Chaplaincy, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Where Is Your Core?  Spiritual Direction in the Chaplain’s Life

Have you ever found yourself at a point where you asked yourself a question:  How did I ever get to where I am now?  I think I’m lost in the woods, and I’m not sure how to get out.


Here’s another question:  Can correctional chaplains have an effective ministry with offenders and staff if the chaplain has no core spiritual direction—and not much spiritual discipline—in his or her personal life?


In this letter we’ll focus on two points:  (1) The need for spiritual direction, and (2) Spiritual discipline as a key to finding and maintaining spiritual direction. 

I. The Need for Spiritual Direction

We begin with a premise:  It’s not easy to stay on track in our personal and professional lives if we have no core principles of spiritual direction which govern our thinking and behavior.


Conversely, if one practices some core principles of spiritual direction, that person is more likely to have a balanced, positive and blessed life.  Why is this? 


Human experience seems to indicate that we don’t do well without guidance and direction.


My wife and I have three kids—all grown now and out of the house (thank you Lord).   None of them had to be taught how to do wrong—they all did it naturally.  The two boys were born first, and sometimes they got into spats and fights after the older one confiscated the toys from the younger one.  The younger one (besides being born feisty and greedy) learned some tactics from his older brother which he then practiced on #3, his younger sister.  She wouldn’t take it, regularly fought back, and relied on her parents to act as referees. 


On the other hand, all of our kids had to be taught (directed and guided) how to do right.  They were not born with pro-social values—they were instructed in them by their parents.


Richard J. Foster’s great book Money, Sex & Power:  The Challenge of the Disciplined Life (1985) explores these human dynamics.  One of my mentors, Harold John Ockenga (1905-1985), said during a seminary chapel talk to us (male) students:  “There are two things that will destroy your ministry if you’re not careful—[inappropriate relationships with] money and women.”


So, what should we think about these—money, sex and power?  Certainly the Scriptures I use are not opposed to any of them—in fact, all may be great blessings.  However, if we do not have good guidance and spiritual direction, any of these three—and a host of other realities in the world—may derail us into living an unbalanced, dysfunctional, or even destructive, life.


II. Spiritual Discipline a Key to Finding Spiritual Direction


As I see it, here’s the bottom line:  If we do not practice some regular, intentional spiritual discipline in our lives, we are apt to follow our lower inclinations, which are often socially negative and harmful.


I was in my warden’s office one day, when I was a unit chaplain.  The warden said to me, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, “Chaplain, there’s something happening on this unit!”  I said, “Oh?  What do you mean?”  He said, “This morning I decided to do some early morning walking—about 4:00 a.m.—on some of the tiers in some of the cellblocks.  I was amazed at the number of inmates I saw who were up that early, reading their Scriptures and others, praying.  I’m telling you, something good is happening on this unit!”  Well, I say hopefully they were getting some spiritual direction.


I always told our kids when they were growing up:  “Do you know why we go to church every week?”  They said (no doubt wishing to sleep in), “No, dad, why?”  I said, “To help us keep our heads screwed on straight.  Everybody needs a weekly dose of God’s wisdom to help us know what’s right and what’s wrong.”  They said, “Oh.  Ok.”  I chuckled.  It was true.


Spiritual disciplines help us find and maintain the spiritual direction we need to live a pro-social, godly life.  So what are some of them?  I’ll list six.


(1) Prayer.  One of the distinctives of the life of faith in the Almighty is prayer.  Unbelievers in a Higher Power rely on themselves for their help and do not give thanks to the Creator.  People of faith, however, practice prayer.  Chaplains practice religion, which I understand has to do with honoring a Supreme Being, so we ask our Sustainer for what we need, we give thanks, we confess our sins, we praise and celebrate God’s goodness, and we intercede for others.  If we fail to practice personal prayer (not just corporate or liturgical prayer), then I believe we fail in a core personal discipline which defines our character as chaplains and as people of faith.  Our lives will not be the better for it.


I will say also that I believe my God is personal, and that the Lord hears and answers prayer.  I’ve been praying for a long time, and the Lord has richly blessed my life.  I believe prayer to God has had something to do with those life blessings.  The psalmist said, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice.”  [Psalm 116:1]


(2) Scripture study.  Another vital discipline is the study of Scripture and other helpful written spiritual material.  God speaks to us in all sort of ways—not least of which is in Scripture.  There is wisdom and guidance there for us there which we will not have if we do not read and meditate on it. 

I’ve had a habit for some time of reading my Scriptures (the Christian Bible of Hebrew and Greek writings—but I read it in English) all the way through every year.  As I read, it’s a helpful reminder of what’s in it, and I always find some life direction as I prayerfully read and meditate on it.   


Scripture study helps me stay on track with my relationships—and with how I relate to money, sex and power.  Scripture reading and meditation also helps me with my chapel preaching and teaching—something all chaplains should periodically practice.  It’s difficult to preach what one knows little about.


(3) Congregational Worship.  A third discipline which nurtures a life of faith is congregational worship.  I once heard Jack Murphy (Murph the Surf, who served 19 years in a Florida prison with two life sentences for murder and jewel theft) talk about this.  To those who say, “I read my Bible and pray in my house—I don’t need to go to the chapel,” he said:  “If all you do is read your Bible and pray in your house, all you’ll ever get is house blessings.  But extra blessings from God come to those who worship in God’s house.”  He was right. 


In my Judeo-Christian tradition, worshipping congregationally has always been instructive, inspirational, and helpful to my faith walk.  Spiritual “chemistry”—the mystical and real encour-agement of God’s Spirit—happens when God’s people gather for worship.


In addition, we become like the One we worship.  If we do not worship the Almighty, then we will become molded into the likeness of our greatest immanent concern.  If that concern is of our own making, then our god will be too small, and not much help will come from it.


(4) Spiritual Accountability.  King David had his Nathan, who could say to him (concerning his adultery and murder, and not be executed for it), “You are the man.”  Everybody needs someone—a spiritual director—or a small group of confidants, who can provide spiritual direction and accountability for us. 


I’ve been meeting regularly for several years with a small group of men who gather for a prayer and share, and accountability, group meeting.  It’s a group that maintains confidentiality among ourselves, so we share our successes and our struggles, and we pray for each other.  It helps to walk the faith journey in the company of others who are trying to live a faithful life of integrity.


(5) Service.  Serving others—volunteering for no material compensation—is a key spiritual discipline for expressing God’s concern for a hurting world.  Such activity not only helps those in need; it also strengthens our character as we may transform from being selfish takers to being compassionate givers. 


The list of noble volunteer activities and organizations is endless—from one’s being a religious volunteer in the prisons, to assisting the poor with material help in our communities, to volunteer service in our houses of worship and related organizations.  Chaplains who are paid for their service will be blessed to exercise the discipline of helping others, for no pay. 


(6) Fasting.  In the discipline of fasting we make a statement that, while physical realities are important, spiritual realities are just as important, and sometimes more so.  In fasting we subordinate our physical desires in order to pursue a spiritual goal. 


Americans generally are a people who celebrate consumption, not denial.  To most of us here, where Christianity is the majority religion, our Leader’s guidance to “deny oneself” is incompre-hensible.   But fasting has its benefits, not least of which would be an expression of repentance and faith.  Fasting, with faith expressed in prayer, draws one nearer to God. 


The need for spiritual direction is great.  Without it, we are on an open sea of rudderless drifting.  But with such direction, built on a foundation of spiritual disciplines, God is near, and God’s wisdom and blessings are with us.


========================== END ============================

 ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number Four – 2014

Rev. Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association


Greetings to our ACCA members!  We had a wonderful time in Tampa this Winter 2014 at the Mid-Winter conference of the American Correctional Association (ACA). We hope you will be able to join us in Salt Lake City for the Summer Congress of the ACA, on August 16-19, 2014.


Relationally Speaking:  Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff


In Tampa in February 2014 I presented a PowerPoint workshop titled “Relationally Speaking:  Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff.”  I give it to all of you in this President’s Letter #4. I will make three main points:




I.  The Need:  Who Are Our Correctional Staff?


The title of this letter begins, “Relationally Speaking.”  Have you ever asked your security staff for a callout of a program or service, and nothing happened?  Have you ever called the switchboard asking for an emergency offender phone call, and the operator said, “I’m busy right now, call back”? 

It’s my view that much—but not all—of our success or failure as chaplains depends on how well we are relating to our coworkers.  I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this.  I can tell you that when I “joined the team” in my prison, things went much better for me and the ministry. 


So, who are our staff?  They are our coworkers and neighbors who have great needs and who are experiencing significant stress. 


Who Are Our Staff:  Problem Reports


A report from Alliance Work Partners (vendor for referrals for employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) showed the numbers of self-reported referrals for the third quarter of 2012 by category:



These self-reports for a 90-day period are significant; however, they are but a small fraction of actual occurrences in each of these problem categories.


Who Are Our Staff:  Generational Differences


At least five generations either work in our institutions, or have been greatly influenced by their parents.  Generally speaking, they may be described as:






Who Are Our Staff:  Anna Ivey Consulting


Anna Ivey Consulting has written that Generation Y workers are experiencing “extended adolescence,” “helicopter parents” who show up with their kids for job interviews, and a sense of entitlement.  Anna Ivey has written “15 Tips for Motivating Generation Y.”  They include:


II. The Response:  Who Are You (What Is Your Self ID)?


Some of Gen Y’s general characteristics can work in a correctional environment—especially their youthful energy and self-confidence.  Other aspects of who they are (generally) will need to be adjusted to our unique workplace environment if they wish to continue in their jobs.  Our agencies need Gen Y, and some of them need us as their employers.


So, how do we respond to Gen Y (and Gen X and the Boomers) among us?

It’s good to realize that:


The Response:  A Personal Story about Self ID


I came to work at the old maximum security Eastham Prison in 1985.  In those days our court-ordered, state-wide prison reform was just beginning, but Eastham was known for being a bit recalcitrant.  In fact, Newsweek magazine in a cover story in 1986 did an article titled, “Inside America’s Toughest Prison.”  (I had no idea what I was getting into when I came to work there a year earlier.) 


In those days there was not much thought of rehabilitative help for offenders.  The wardens were from the old “warrior” school, not the new “manager” school.  I was trying to help offenders, but that was not the commonly understood mission of the agency.


I soon developed a poor attitude toward the staff.  I believed they were obstructionists to what I was called to do.  I did not like them, and they did not like me.  I was doing fine ministering to offenders, but I was going around the staff.  I was not on the team.  It was not a good situation.


But one day, in an annual employee performance evaluation, a great warden helped me with an epiphany.  He said to me, in a shockingly pastoral manner, “Chaplain, do you know that my staff needs you?”  I thought about his question, and I replied, “No.  I don’t know that, and I don’t believe that.”  He quietly responded:  “Well, let me tell you:  My staff needs you.”  Wow.  I had never heard that before. 


In the days following, I believe God began to speak to me about repentance and confession.  Following some prayer and personal repentance, I went to all the mid- and upper-level management of the prison, apologized to each one for avoiding them in the past, said I was turning over a new leaf, wanted to join their team, and help them in whatever ways I could.  Each one said something like, “Ok.”  As if to say, “We’ll see,” and, “Time will tell.” 


I was serious about my new path, and in time, things began to change in my relationship with the correctional staff.  I began to speak to them, to ask them how they were doing, and to listen to their responses.  I asked God for help in loving and caring for the staff that I had formerly held in disgust and disdain.  My prayers were answered.  In my 28 years as a chaplain at the Eastham Prison, the last 20 were much more blessed than the first 8.  The staff came to be my friends.  When they had a need, I wanted to be there to help.  When I needed something, they were eager to respond.  What a blessing.


III. The Strategy:  How to Do Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff


The Strategy:  Beginning with understanding


Pastoral care to correctional staff begins with understanding that our coworkers are persons with human needs for:


The Strategy:  What worked?


So, what worked for me?  Here’s the wisdom I’ve received:



The Strategy:  More formal pastoral care


Sometimes staff will have personal or professional problems they wish to confide in you.


Most of what we do in pastoral care to correctional staff is short-term.  They are busy.  Greet them, and converse with them briefly.  Do not detain them by your long, on-the-job conversation with them.  You probably cannot fix them, but you may refer—to an employee assistance program, to a spiritual advisor, or to a counselor.


Other ways to minister to staff include having volunteers who minister solely to the staff—distributing water and small packages of crackers or cookies.  Some communities of faith in the community have sponsored office appreciations at the front gate at shift change—distributing BBQ and a cold drink.  Officers know a community of faith did the good deed, and they appreciate it. 


Whatever it takes, do some regular pastoral care with your staff—both formally and especially informally.  If you want to do a more formal event for your officers, be sure to get your administrator’s permission. Regular pastoral care will bless them, and it will bless your ministry.

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ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number Three – 2014

Rev. Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association

Out-a-whack with Stress?  Restoring Boundaries in Work and Life                      


I. The Problem:  Too Much Work, Not Enough Life


Sometimes offenders, anticipating their release from a long prison term, may wonder:  Can there be life after prison?  I have sometimes wondered, in the midst of the urgent demands of my vocation:  Can there be life after work?


We live in a modern age of increasing federal, state and agency bureaucratic rules and regulations which tax our time, energy and patience.  The reams of compliance paperwork involved in our staff chaplaincy jobs seem at times to be overwhelming.  At the same time most of the states in the United States are experiencing budgetary shortfalls, and are considering—or implementing—cuts in their payrolls.  So, it seems we have:  more work to do, fewer resources with which to do it. 


I remember well the Reduction in Force (RIF) cutbacks, passed by our state legislature in 2003.  Our Chaplaincy staff, in a move now largely seen as counterproductive and damaging to our rehabilitative goals for offenders, was cut by 40% in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  (Thankfully, staff chaplain positions have been restored in the years since 2003.)  In a maximum security prison of 2,500 where we struggled with three staff chaplains, after the RIF we suddenly had only one staff chaplain (me).  I struggled even more with the demands of my work, but felt hopeless to do much about it.


One day I asked my older and wiser prison chaplaincy mentor, Emmett Solomon, about what to do with my feelings of not having enough time to do what I needed to do.  He said, “Vance, you didn’t ask for this situation.  It came to you.  Do the best you can, and go home.  What you don’t get done today will be there tomorrow.  And also, be sure to take care of yourself.”  Those words were liberating for me.  I realized I am only one person, not three, and I should not be trying to do the work of three chaplains.  And, at other times my mentor has talked about the invaluable assistance of volunteers. 


I am a borderline workaholic (some of my friends would take the “borderline” out of that), so work comes easily for me.  But I found myself enjoying my prison chaplaincy ministry less, and I discovered myself—instead of responding in a pastoral manner to offender requests and needs—sometimes impatiently snapping at them in ways I hadn’t experienced before. 


Somehow I was aware of what was happening, and God—for starters—led me to add a word to my daily prayers.  I had been asking for strength and wisdom in my work.  Now, the Almighty impressed upon me:  “Add grace to that.  Ask me for strength, wisdom and grace in your daily work.”  I did, and it helped.  But I had a problem, and adding a good word to my prayers was only the beginning of a solution.


I also realized that I was working in a toxic environment, not conducive to stress relief but one which contributed to compounding my stress.  Correctional officers had it even worse than I did:  Whereas I could get some relief in my air conditioned office, most correctional officers worked eight to twelve hours a day, standing on concrete floors in spaces with no air conditioning in the stifling Texas heat, dealing with anti-social convicted felons all day.  What a recipe not just for normal stress but for the worst sorts of distress!


I did some research on the subject, and found that correctional and law enforcement officers have some of the highest rates of work-related stress in any vocation, including physical and mental health issues, burnout, personal, marital and family dysfunction and disintegration, and early disability retirement.1


II. Outlines of a Many-faced Solution


So, what could I do?  Once I acknowledged and owned my boundary issues between legitimate work and the rest of my life, I could begin to think about a solution.  My solution was multifaceted because I came to believe there is an array of actions I could take which would help me.  Here are eleven which may help you too.




Also, have a regular date night when you do something special, away from your cell phone, your computer and your other communications devices which keep you from communicating with the most important person(s) in your life.  Practicing this intentional time of fellowship with your loved ones will refresh and renew you.











Recognizing and practicing boundaries between our professional work life and our life outside of work is necessary to having a healthy and well-rounded life, free of unnecessary stress.  There is life outside of work.  If you do not have one, I commend it to you and I encourage you:  Go get it. 




1See the following articles on stress-related issues in correctional settings:

Finn, Peter.  “Addressing Correctional Officer Stress:  Programs and Strategies.”  U. S. Department of Justice:  National Institute of Justice.  December 2012.

Morgan, Robert D., Van Haveren, Richard A., Pearson, Christy A.  “Correctional Officer Burnout.”  Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 29, #2.  April 2002. 

ToersBijns, Carl.  “Stress, the Silent Killer.”  December 17, 2012. 

2Buchanan, Mark.  The Rest of God:  Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath.  Thomas Nelson, 2006.


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ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number Two – 2013

Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

President, American Correctional Chaplains Association

Where’s the Help? 

The Recruiting and Nurturing of Volunteers

The Need for Help:  The Story in One State

About 25 years ago, as I remember it, things were a lot quieter in most prison chapels.  In those days the chaplain sat in the chapel office most of the day doing one-on-one counseling with offenders, and waiting for someone to come in with an emergency.  Prison administrators expected their chaplains to deliver messages in the event of offender family member death.  They also were charged to be the one to notify the next of kin when an offender died in the prison.


Until recent years prisons were fairly closed societies.  Even though the public owned them, and paid for them, the public was not very welcome in them.  Religious volunteers were not too numerous and not too visible.  To be sure, a few worship services were held, but chapel services for the purpose of helping offenders in their personal, interpersonal and spiritual growth and development were uncommon.  The prisons were filled with violence and infested with gangs.  There was not much hope among the offender population.  Rehabilitative and reentry programs were not much in our thinking.


Help On the Way

All of that began to change in earnest in the 1990s.  I remember our Chairman of the Board of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Carol Vance, at that time, who came to speak to all of the chaplains at an annual training event.  We were in the midst of the great prison building boom of the ‘90s, and the prison population was exploding—from 35,000 in 1985 to, eventually, 155,000.  Texas Prison facilities in that period increased from 30 to 112. 


Mr. Vance, himself a man of faith, talked with us.  He indicated that we were in deep trouble.  He said that our prison officers were neither trained nor commissioned to help the offenders in our care.  Officers can give some guidance and discipline, he said, but they were there to keep the offenders inside the fences.  He indicated that more than good security is needed, because 95% of our offenders will one day return to society, our neighborhoods.  What are we doing to help them be better citizens than when they came into our facilities?  The answer at that time?  Not much.


Mr. Vance gave us an exaggerated statement to make a point:  He said—in a paraphrase—we don’t need your little study group in prison to help us—we need your whole house of worship there to help us with the great task of giving offenders a new perspective on life, of showing them a new way of living, and of nurturing them in that new, moral, positive path.


Thus began a tremendous new emphasis—now 20+ years old—to bring faith-based rehabilitative and reentry programming into the prisons through the Chaplaincy Department.  A system of policy and procedures was set in place to recruit, screen, train, supervise and retrain quality volunteers of all faith groups, and enter them into a prison volunteer database.  As a result today there are over 21,000 approved, on-the-computer volunteers—of whom about 90% are religious volunteers of all faith groups—in the Texas prisons. 


Results of the Help

There are several outcomes which have coincided with the great increase in numbers of volunteers. 


Think about it.  In a prison of 2,500 with one chaplain, what can one chaplain do?  One chaplain can do as much as one person can do—not a whole lot without help.  But one chaplain, with the help of Certified Volunteer Chaplain Assistants, can recruit scores of other volunteers to help on a monthly basis to do the program leadership, provide a multi-faith array of worship services in a pluralistic environment, do needed counseling of offenders, and minister to correctional staff, all of which is needed in any prison. 


Faith-based life skills and life management rehabilitative programming, mentoring, transitional reentry programming, spiritual growth programming, victims services programming, and worship services for multiple faith groups take up most of every day in the typical chapel.  No longer is the chaplain sitting in an office waiting for someone to knock on the door.  Staff chaplains are commissioned and supported by the legislature, the Board of Criminal Justice and by our agency executive leadership to set up programs, announce their availability, and sign up offenders who volunteer to participate.  Offenders are hungry, open and receptive to the new initiatives.  When offenders are released, state-supplied parole chaplains take over the task, with thousands of additional volunteers, helping ex-offenders transition successfully from inside to outside.


The results have been nothing less than astounding.  The recidivism rate 20 years ago—returning to prison after three years out—was 76%.  Today—coinciding with the new culture of doing what we can with massive new numbers of volunteers to help offenders grow spiritually and interpersonally—the recidivism rate after three years out has dropped to 22%.  All of this has happened at a time when the population in the state is increasing by about 2,000 a day, but the prison population seems to have peaked and is on the decline.  Texas has closed three of its prisons in the past two years. 


What should we think of volunteers?  Religious volunteers—properly recruited, screened, trained, supervised and retrained—are a most valuable asset in a prison.  Is a volunteer ever exited for violation of policy?  Yes.  But we do not throw out the baby with the bath.  The program continues, and does great good.


Where do these religious volunteers come from?  They come from our houses of worship as individuals feel a compassionate call to help guide so many who may not have had the blessings of effective parenting and good moral and social development.  They are encouraged to step out in faith from their comfort zone, they are trained and welcomed by prison administrators, and they feel great fulfillment in making our society a safer place when offenders become ex-offenders who are moral, productive and upright citizens.


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ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number One


Rev. Vance L. Drum, D.Min.

June 11, 2013


Dear Members of the American Correctional Chaplains Association:





In about two months I hope to see many of you at 143rd Congress of Correction of the American Correctional Association (ACA).  The dates are August 10-14, 2013, and the place, the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland (Washington, D.C. area). 


The American Correctional Chaplains Association (ACCA) will meet at the same time and place as the ACA, with most of our chaplaincy meetings being held on August 10-11.  The Gaylord resorts are beautiful and relaxing.  I hope to meet you there.  You do not have to register for the ACA to attend our ACCA meetings. 


Our immediate past ACCA President Dale Hale wrote a letter to our members last Winter.  I expect to write a quarterly letter to you, so this is the Spring letter (though, I admit, it’s almost Summer). 



Who Is the New ACCA President?


If you will indulge me for a moment, I will introduce myself.  I’m a product of the American North, the South and the Middle.  Born in Washington, D.C., I grew up in Indiana, and graduated from college, universities and seminary in Massachusetts, Florida, Kentucky and Texas.  Coming to Texas in 1981 to pastor a church, I soon became a prison volunteer, and then was a staff chaplain for 27 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice beginning in 1985 at the Eastham Prison (called “America’s Toughest” by Newsweek in a 1986 cover story).  In 2012 I became a supervising chaplain in the TDCJ’s Region 1. 


The Eastham Unit (second oldest of 111 state prisons in Texas, and former home of Clyde Barrows [Bonnie and Clyde]) is isolated at the end of a country road, so I was always anxious to get out of town and meet some colleagues who were trying to do what I was to help offenders move in a more socially positive, rehabilitative, spiritual direction.  I began attending national ACA and ACCA meetings in 1993, and have always been blessed by the experience.


Where Are We Going in ACCA?


First I want to note that the ACA was founded in 1870 by reform-minded leaders, many of whom were clergy.  Their purpose was to work to make the prisons of that day more humane.  The ACCA was the first affiliate (in 1885) of the ACA, and the clergy, represented by the ACCA, has always had a visible and steadfast presence in the ACA. 


I encourage all of us to continue our compassionate tradition and invite our chaplain and religious volunteer friends to join our ACCA.  We are the premier and oldest professional chaplaincy association in the world.  I have met great people here.  They will be blessed by supporting the cause.


It is my belief that our ACCA will do its best not by focusing on obstacles which we may face, which are many (budgetary, personnel, etc.), but on a positive reinforcement of our values and best practices. 


(Having said that, if you have a need with which I may be able to assist, please contact me at [936] 577-7231 or, and I may be able to come to your aid.  I can do some travel.  This Spring I attended two of our regional ACCA conferences—in New Jersey and in Arkansas.  Both were great.)


I therefore propose to write some observations and thoughts for us in this column in the next eight quarters on the following subjects which have been instructive to me.  They are:


Spring 2013 – When They Get Out:  Rehabilitative and Reentry Programs

Summer 2013 – Where’s the Help?  The Care and Nurture of Volunteers

Fall 2013 – Relationally Speaking:  Pastoral Care to Offenders and Staff

Winter 2014 – Outtawhack?  Balance in Work and Life

Spring 2014 – Where’s Your Core?  Practicing Spiritual Discipline

Summer 2014 – Mistakes I’ve Made:  Growing Edges in Ministry

Fall 2014 – Relating to Powerbrokers:  Legislators and Administrators

  Winter 2015 – Constitutionally Speaking:  Establishment and Free Exercise

When They Get Out:  Rehabilitative and Reentry Programs


This quarter I want to highlight and give a word of encouragement about offender programs.  Approximately 95% of all offenders in prison will be released one day. 


Here’s a question:  In what spiritual, emotional and mental condition will they be released? 


I believe that if the majority of our offenders get out of prison in worse shape than they came in, we have failed in an important aspect of our mission.  Our primary mission is to provide safe and secure custody for offenders.  But a vital aspect of our mission is to provide opportunity for the rehabilitation and successful reentry of offenders. 


One essential tool for this ministry is quality, faith-based programs, which may be thought of in two categories:  worship and rehabilitation. 


Worship draws one nearer to one’s Creator.  If one believes the Creator is good, then worship will assist in the transformation of our lives into the image of that good Creator. 


Worship may be lively, or it may be sublimely quiet.  It should never be boring.  Offenders in worship in my Protestant Christian experience tend to make a lot of sound.  They are expressive.   But I’ve also wept in the midst of the solemnity of a Roman Catholic Mass.  Worship can be transformationally significant.  It should be well thought out, and done well, from the heart. 


The other kind of programs which transform are intentionally rehabilitative and reentry programs.  They are not primarily worship; instead, they are cognitively focused on positive moral and character formation.  Their aim is to reason with the offender:  to cause him or her to consider their lives, to consider alternatives to their past manner of life, and to show the way forward in a more socially positive, responsible direction.


Examples of these kinds of discipleship programs I am familiar with are:  Changes (a secular, cognitive intervention, life management course), Voyager (which is Changes with an added faith component), The Institute of Self-Worth, Quest for Authentic Manhood, Kairos, Experiencing God, A Daily Choice (overcoming addiction), Celebrate Recovery, the Purposeful Living Units Serve (PLUS program in Indiana), Home for Good (in Oregon), Threshold and various quality mentoring programs. 


I hope the days are past when the chaplain is one who mostly sits in an office waiting for offenders to come to him or her for counsel.  To be sure, we still counsel offenders in need. 


However, in 2013, with overflowing prisons, and our culture unraveling around us, I believe we must be proactive administrative, pastoral chaplains—energetically offering rehabilitative programs to our offenders, bringing in volunteers to facilitate them, and having divine compassion for the lost and hurting all around us. 


If we go in this direction, experiencing the joy of seeing transformed offender lives, and being a caring shepherd for our flock, then I believe we will seldom burn out, and our released former offender neighbors will be living a moral and productive life.  This has been my joy and my experience, and I commend it to you.


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