Missouri Department of Corrections celebrates 175 years of chaplaincy

Around 25 chaplains gathered in Jefferson City Wednesday to celebrate the 175th anniversary of chaplaincy in Missouri prisons. (Megan Sanchez/KRCG 13)

About 25 chaplains gathered in Jefferson City Wednesday to celebrate the 175th anniversary of chaplaincy in Missouri prisons.

According to the Department of Corrections, prison chaplaincy began in 1843, four years after the construction of the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Since then, the program has evolved and developed to accommodate multiple faiths and denominations. Chaplains provide spiritual counsel, guidance and education to inmates in a variety of ways. The DOC lists several religions they accommodate including Buddhism, Catholicism and Islam.

Chaplain Leon Miller, who works at the Potosi Correctional Center located in Washington County, said most of the inmates he serves are serving life without parole.

"I believe if we, as chaplains, can minister to the spiritual needs of an individual, then that spiritual need, being met, will bleed over into all areas of the institution," Miller said. "It will help them be settled in the season which they are incarcerated, and help them - to the best that they can - acclimate to what they are going through."

Miller said his job is challenging, but very rewarding.

"It's not for everybody," he said. "Every person out there is not suited to the corrections profession, but yet, if an individual is called, it's a very rewarding career, and in my opinion, it's a good life."

Potosi, he said, is where many Missourians are sentenced to death row serve time. He said inmates stay there up until about three days before execution.

"They'e accepted what is their future," he said. "My role is to help them to acclimate to where they are. It's a challenging situation, but yet, it's a privilege, because I like to think I'm helping them accept what they're going through, and to make peace with their maker before that time of execution comes."

Miller said he has a lot of compassion for inmates, and he hopes others can see that, too.

"A lot of the offender population is not a whole lot different than you and I," he said. "They've made some mistakes, yes. They've made some bad choices, yes. They have been found guilty a jury of their peers, yes, but they go through a lot of life experiences just like we do. My role is to try to help them work through that season in their life, because they're not all that much different. All they are asking of us as those people on the outside so to speak, is just to respect them for who they are, and as we respect them for who they are, then we in turn get respect from them, and it's kind of a give and take situation."

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