I truly believe there are former Morrison Youth Institution (now named Richmond Correctional Institution in Hoffman) youthful offenders who have maintained great memories through the years of a special group of local Yokefellows who steadfastly committed themselves to making weekly visits with them as part of their ministry.
These visits occurred on Tuesday evenings in the prison cafeteria. The volunteers usually brought snacks and created a casual and non-threatening or judgmental atmosphere while sitting around the tables chatting with the guys.
This group of volunteers originated from Rockingham First Baptist Church in the ’70s and ’80s and included Leroy Yates, Patsy and Leon Jenkins, Louise Deaton, and Lib Davis among others. I know these visits meant a great deal to these guys because they often told me how much they enjoyed talking to them. My students would frequently share a funny story or anecdote one of the volunteers had told them the night before. The students knew I attended First Baptist and knew I knew all the volunteers and that I would appreciate hearing the stories.
In many ways I think these “senior” volunteers got as much pleasure meeting with these guys as the guys did. Back in these days, the school staff at Morrison sponsored GED luncheon/graduations for students who passed the GED exam administered at Morrison through Richmond Community College. The students were allowed to invite two guests, usually were parents, for the special event held in the school library. These events were partially catered affairs with staff bringing lots of side dishes and desserts. You can imagine what these meals meant to the graduates.
It was not unusual for students to invite some of the Yokefellow volunteers to be at their table if their family members could not attend, so every graduate always had someone special at his table.
I do not know the present prevalence of Yokefellow programs in prisons today or for that matter Richmond Correctional Institution. But I do know first hand that in the years I taught at Morrison what this program meant to the youthful offenders there. Here were people who came to visit them each week and brought a little sunshine into their lives and probably reminded them of their own grandparents and older relatives.
This special group not only left memories at Morrison but through their tireless efforts across the state raised money to build a chapel on the campus of Morrison that is still being used to this day.
The Yokefellow organization gives in its mission statement a goal to help at risk youth, inmates and returning citizens yoke themselves to Christ for salvation and changed lives. The mission statement goes further to state that the success of the volunteers depends on their commitment to change the lives of the people with whom they meet with on a weekly basis to help them acquire a sense of personal discipline and to develop trust in small groups where problems and faith can be shared.
The Yokefellow volunteers mentioned in my column have all gone to their heavenly home … gone but never forgotten by the youth offenders they loyally served with so much dedication so many years ago.
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.