DURHAM (WTVD) -- Coming up from the water in his red Durham County Detention jumpsuit, a smile fell across the face of an inmate just baptized. Shouts of praise by a group of chaplains and applause from nearby detention staff briefly drowned out the sound of worship music playing through a speaker.
As the inmate wiped water from his head and climbs out of the above ground swimming pool brought in just for this moment, Sheriff Mike Andrews was there to greet him with a handshake and a small Bible.
It's a scene never played out before at the Durham County jail, but on Sunday, Andrews arranged for 39 inmates, who asked to be baptized by immersion, to do so.
The ceremony was months in the making following one inmate's request.
An assault charge landed Reginald Minor, 38, in jail, but something else drew him to the water.
"My salvation," he said. "Life is just too short now. Tomorrow's never promised."
Until now, Andrews has only accommodated requests for baptism with a ceremonial sprinkling. This time, however, memories of a near-fatal car accident that drew him closer to God, compelled him to go further.
"When I went to the hospital, there was one person that I called out to- that I wanted to save me," he said, pausing to fight back tears. "And that was answered. So, I have compassion for people."
Logistics for the baptism ceremony took three months and many more meetings with detention staff. They brought two above ground swimming pools into a secured lot where inmates were brought out two at a time.
The inmates' charges range from DWI, to rape, and murder. As they wait behind bars for their cases to be adjudicated, they voluntarily take part in Bible study sessions and worship services.
Shatocka Carlton, 40, is due in court in August on conspiracy charges. The mother of two said she was already baptized as a young girl, but wanted to make the decision to rededicate her life to Christ as an adult.
"For the future," she said. "My past is behind me so I'm looking forward to the future, a new life."
"They have been forgiven if they've truly repented," said Vinny Abbruscato, a chaplain who has spent the past few months leading some of the worship services and meeting with various inmates one-on-one. "And you can see the change and the transformation in them."
Unable to know for certain the intentions of any one person's heart, the sheriff is clear, judgment is not for him to cast.
"If this makes a difference for one or two people, we've done the right thing," he said.
Andrews said he's walking by faith, and now, so are many of those serving time.
"For me, knowing that I'm not alone," Minor said about how his decision and the others' that followed is changing his life. "That there's other Christians in here that's on the same spiritual walk that I am on."
The following churches and outreach ministries assisted with the baptism ceremony:
- Pastor Julian Couch - Faucette Memorial CME
- Chaplin Vincent Abbruscato - Trinity Outreach
- Rev Eddie Johnson - Apostolic Faith
- Elder Andre Mims - Word of God Fellowship
- Andrew Mims - World Overcomers Christian Church
- Mary Wynne - Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
- Elder Toynetta Butler - Refiners Fire Community Church
The Durham County jail provides resources to inmates of all faiths and religious backgrounds.