Seeing God’s Grace Behind the Walls – From Volunteer to Board Member


When I first became a jail ministry volunteer, I got involved because of my passion to provide hope, love and support to hurting women.  Throughout my time as a ministry volunteer, I was blessed beyond measure by the number of women that have been encouraged to get their lives back on track.  When I was first asked to consider being a Forsyth County Jail & Prison Ministries’ board member, I was hesitant. Not because I wasn’t appreciative of this gracious opportunity but because my passion was going to the jail to teach bible study and lead worship services, through my church, St. Peter’s World Outreach Center, under the tutelage of Bishop James C. & Mrs. Joyce Hash, Jr.

After much prayer and consideration, I accepted the board member nomination, with pleasure.  Becoming a member of the Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries’ Board is one of the most valuable volunteer opportunities that I have ever had.  This valuable ministry is devoted to increasing awareness of the critical needs of community and church involvement in the criminal justice arena to promote and support compassionate, effective justice and rehabilitation for all.  I am amazed and overwhelmingly appreciative of the inward workings of the Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries.

I desire to see more churches, community members and organizations to learn more about the objectives, efforts and valuable contributions of the Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries.  The ministry’s relentless dedication for rehabilitating inmates is incredible and I stand in awe of the hard work and service that goes into this ministry. There are several ways to become involved with the Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries, first by educating yourself with more knowledge of the inward working of this ministry. The staff is tactful, Chaplains are dedicated and board members are constantly strategizing on ways to help improve the lives of the inmates, their families and their community integration.

Cherry Street Prison inmates are provided with education and training to enhance their survival and rehabilitation. Before I became a volunteer, I was not aware of the needs and impact we can make behind prison walls. I have also learned so much about what goes on behind the board room walls concerning all of these wonderful programs.  One of my most cherished experiences is volunteering, as permitted, at the Forsyth County Detention Center.  To have the opportunity to interact and encourage females has been life changing and I have a strong desire to resurrect hope within them. I’ve seen the depth of their pain, seen many of them come into our bible studies guilt-ridden, feeling worthless, and beat down by the weight of life on their shoulders.  Nothing can fully express my joy to witness these same ladies going from sitting on the back row, and thinking we were only there because we had nothing else to do, to the second row and then the front row. Yes they now believe they were born with a purpose to be someone special and know they can be authentically loved without ulterior motives.

I always wonder what happened to them from birth to now that caused them to veer in life. Everyone has a story. If the female that is incarcerated trusts you, they tell you the raw truth that’s so very painful and deep to the core of their soul. They cry, sometimes I cry. Many times I am so touched by their infirmity.

Most of the ladies I talk with were abused as a child.  I wonder why no one saw their pain. Most people will eventually act out pain or guilt.   My call in the ministry came on June 4, 1984 to hurting women. Since then to now, I never veered from my call. I don’t take it lightly because I have myself dealt with a lot of deep pain. I couldn’t understand why, but now I know that I had to experience and overcome my own pain to be equipped and able to relate to the ladies that God allows me to encounter.  As a jail and prison ministry volunteer, I realize that you have to be serious and dedicated.  If not, you will go a few times and never show up again. I stay humble because God is not through with me. I tell the ladies to not think because we are on the outside that we don’t deal with things also. Grace bring all of us through it.

I am consciously always aware of my environment when attending jails and the necessary spiritual warfare. I’m totally leaning into God knowing that I can do nothing without Him. He must be present in His might and power if anything great is going to happen. Each week I say to God; if You don’t go, I’m not going. Every time He shows up. We tell them that no matter what the location is they still have purpose. The enemy can’t take away God’s purpose whether it comes to pass or not.

I am grateful that I get to experience their transformation from frowns, bitterness and tears to hope, forgiveness and smiles. One thing I always keep in focus is, it could have been me behind those cells because Satan does not have a good plan for none of us.  They are now aware of the new mercy, grace and hope that awaits them every new day. Little did they know that their door to freedom was just a footstep away.

Every week I tell them; if no one ever told you I love you, I do! My joy is to see them outside of jail and they say; you are the lady that taught at the jail and they tell me how it helped them or what they are doing now. I’m not foolish enough to believe everyone is a success, but if I can help one, I have done the work of the Lord.

What started as me wanting to help others, has turned into a win-win where I am being blessed just as much as they are.  Thank you Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries’ Board for allowing my eyes to be open me to the effects of real hope from both sides of the work of the Lord. As a volunteer and now Board Member I am keenly aware, and thankful, that the same grace that helps these ladies survive is the same grace that allowed me to volunteer through such a wonderful organization. We invite you to come behind the wall to help make a difference too.


Gwendolyn Dervin

Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries Board Member