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Institutional Chaplain Motivated by Changing Lives

Just a few short years ago, RIDOC Institutional Chaplain the Rev. Carson Byers, originally from Dallas, Texas, was working for an international portrait company based in Houston. His position as a sales representative and trainer for the company's Northeast region, headquartered in upstate N.Y., required that he travel throughout the east coast. In January 2010, he was directed to oversee a three-week sales promotion in Warwick, R.I. at a well-known national wholesale club. Although he had major reservations about leaving New York State, he followed through having no clue that the course of his life, as he knew it, was about to change forever.

When he arrived at the Warwick venue, Byers did something he had grown accustomed to doing at each location to which he traveled…he displayed a portrait of himself, taken by his company's photographer. This move not only increased his overall sales but also caught the attention of the Rev. Dr. Janice Thompson, an Institutional Chaplain at the RIDOC's John J. Moran Medium Security Facility, who spotted the portrait when the Rev. Byers was on a break. Intrigued by the photo, she approached and spoke to Rev. Byers before leaving the store and the rest, as they say, is history. The two arranged to meet for lunch and remained in contact. Although he was a committed employee, the Rev. Byers' travels came to an end at the close of 2010 when he and Dr. Thompson were married in a unique ceremony attended by family and friends.

Since early in their relationship, Pastor Byers has assisted Chaplain Janice Byers with the services she conducts at the Moran Facility. Shortly after they married, an opportunity arose enabling him to become a part of the RIDOC family as Institutional Chaplain in the men's Minimum Security Facility. "Pastor B," as he is affectionately known among the inmates as well as parishioners at his local church, gladly accepted the position. "I viewed this opportunity as divine providence" he reflects, further noting, "It represented my purpose coming to fruition." Pastor Byers explains his calling this way - "It has been my long-time desire to reach out to men who are struggling and bring them into alignment with their higher power, so that they may fulfill their destiny and become the 'men of purpose' they are destined to be."

In addition to holding interdenominational worship services at Minimum, Pastor Byers walks through the modules and the yard interacting with prisoners on an informal basis. His responsibilities include initiating furloughs in the case of critical illness or death, counseling inmates and their families, visiting those who are hospitalized and praying with them. He participates in new inmate orientation, where he introduces the various ministries available to them and encourages them to take advantage of every opportunity to grow mentally and spiritually. Through these various interactions, he feels the men learn that he genuinely cares about them and their individual needs. "This causes them, more often than not, to open up and let me into their space" he reflects.

Pastor Byers is enthusiastic about his new role, noting, "My position calls upon me to be chaplain to both inmates and staff alike. I have heard that I am the first chaplain to interact with the inmates in the manner that I do. I count it a privilege, and I love my ministry at the ACI."

The Rev. Byers recalls a time-honored saying, "Find a job that you love, and you'll never work a day in your life." "This is that job, for me," he notes. Citing another favorite quote, he explains what to him is unacceptable - "If you see a problem and do nothing to change the problem, you become as much of the problem as the problem itself."

Pastor Byers has been engaged in some form of ministry for 36 years. His first public speaking engagement came at the age of three when he recited the Ten Commandments before a convention audience, standing on a table without missing or mispronouncing one word. He received his first pastoral appointment at 21. "I guess you can say this is my life," Byers states of his pastoral work.

Outside the walls, the Rev. Byers shares a ministry with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Janice Byers, known as the Kingdom Seekers Fellowship. They work together as co-pastors, ministering to many ex-offenders who come to them seeking guidance as they face the sometimes overwhelming task of re-assimilating into society. He concludes, "Our shared goal is to make a difference in our community through the lives we touch!"

Related links

Department or agency: Department of Corrections

Online: http://www.doc.ri.gov

Release date: 07-03-2012

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