Big changes sometimes come from small efforts.

The McLean County jail relies upon more than 100 volunteers who help inmates address issues that contributed to the criminal charges pending against them. Addiction, unemployment, homelessness and a lack of family support are all part of the recipe.

When Roger Holmes thinks back to the first time he went to the jail to meet with inmates for Bible study, he realizes the significance of his long stretch as a volunteer.

"I've done this half my life," says Holmes, who turns 70 later this year. 

Holmes felt called to jail ministry in 1967 after he finished Moody Bible School. Through his connection with a church, he started by working with inmates at the Cook County jail and in the 1980s joined volunteers at the McLean County jail.

Holmes started out as a "roving minister," a person who went to all the housing units and asked if anyone wanted to talk. Over the years, the program changed to a Bible study group with as few as four to as many a dozen inmates.

In his three decades at the jail, Holmes has noticed threads common in many inmates' lives.

"I started asking them: 'Tell me about your father.' Did I ever get an earful," says Holmes, who heard stories of rejection and physical abuse. In some cases, gangs replaced a positive male role.

"They turn to drugs and alcohol to cover the pain. It's something that runs rampant in our society. Drugs and alcohol are a symptom and not the problem."

To combat the demons, Holmes tries to help inmates "reorder their thinking." Airing and dealing with old grievances and making plans for the future, with the support of a faith community, are part of the approach.

Holmes, of Hudson, has been a member of Abundant Life in Christ Church in downtown Bloomington for about two years. The church, which also serves as a shelter and support center for homeless people, is led by Pastor Charles Ahrens.

After their release from jail, inmates are welcome at Abundant Life and offered help getting back in their feet. "That's why this church is so important," he says.

With the recent expansion of the jail, more volunteers will be needed to work in the housing units, says Kessinger.

Volunteer work has its rewards, says Holmes. "You pour yourself into these individuals and rarely do you leave without feeling you're getting more than you give."

When he is not helping jail inmates, Holmes works part time at MarcFirst as an assistant for disabled adults. His love of railroad photography takes him to rail yards across the state. He also enjoys teaching people how to operate steam locomotives.    


Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny


McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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