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Greenwood

Preacher goes to jail

By WILLIAM BROWNING

Greenwood Commonwealth

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) - Nathan Segars goes to jail every

Wednesday.

He's at the big gates around 10 a.m., signs a docket, steps

through a metal detector, walks into a room of inmates and hears

the door slam shut behind him.

"It's certainly not a fun thing to do," he said with a slight

smile. "It's not a welcoming environment by any means."

Segars, preacher at West President Church of Christ in

Greenwood, isn't serving time. He's talking to and ministering to

those who are. He wants to put hope in their lives. Carrying a

Bible and sometimes literature, he's been at the Delta Correctional

Facility almost every Wednesday morning for the last year.

"Going in the first time, I didn't know exactly how I was going

to handle it," he said while sitting in his church office, a few

hours removed from his most recent visit. "But I just decided that

I was going to bring the guys the good news of the Gospel and let

them respond to it the way they wanted."

He said he meets inmates who are behind bars for everything from

"silly misdemeanors" to "pretty elevated felony charges." Most

have tattoos, some have scars and a few have suffered gunshots. It

is interesting to picture Segars n a slight, fresh-faced

36-year-old with blond hair and a doctorate in philosophy n

surrounded by men in county-issue jumpsuits.

"You can imagine those guys looking at me and thinking, 'What's

this blond-haired boy doing?"' he said. "But after they saw that

I kept coming back, we've developed some trust."

So much trust, in fact, that he sometimes leaves with personal

letters. Segars looks at the detail-filled notes when he gets back

to his office.

"After reading some of them I just kind of stare at the wall

for a second," he said.

Sometimes the men are "spiritually vulnerable," he said.

"They are much more open to learn and admit their need for

spiritual guidance than the casual pew-sitter who is in church

grumbling because they had to get out of a warm bed," he said.

Segars, who talks on average with 15 to 20 men a week, admits to

having been cussed a few times, but he talks with passion about the

success he's had.

"I'm usually there for one hour," he said. "But sometimes

things get going and you have a hard time cutting them off."

During one visit in May, he baptized an inmate.

"That hadn't been done a lot, apparently," he said, before

describing how a laundry cart was filled with water at a mop

station and rolled into the showers and a crowd descended on the

scene.

There's a lot of turnover in the county side of the jail, which

is where he always goes. Still, he detects a common thread in the

men he talks with.

"That jail is filled with people who are victims of the

circumstances of their lives n not to say they're not guilty of

crimes," he said. "But there are people who would steal because

their family doesn't have anything and it's the only thing they

feel they could do. These are people who fight not because they're

being stupid, but because they're so frustrated with their lives."

Segars, who has been at Church of Christ for roughly 18 months,

is realistic about the outcome of his volunteer work. Many of the

people who leave the jail end up back inside, he said.

"You have to keep yourself from thinking that you're going to

turn all of them around. But at the same time, you know you're

bringing a message to them that they need to hear. And I don't

think they forget it."

Segars said when he goes home after visiting the inmates, his

wife, Amy, can always tell where he's been.

"I guess I'm just not as animated," he said, adding that he

often leaves the jail with stories about children being sent to

live with relatives and wives and girlfriends turning to

prostitution to pay bills. "Its a sobering reminder of how real

life is lived by so many people."

If one person has been changed by the visits, it's Segars, who

said he's been forced to rethink how he views the incarcerated.

"I have not met a single guy out there that I don't think about

how his life could have been different had he not made one bad

decision, because they're all good guys," he said. "These are

good people that have had circumstances change everything for

them."

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Information from: Greenwood Commonwealth,

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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