Updated Tue, Nov 8, 2011 6:40 am
Updated Tue, Nov 8, 2011 6:40 am
Mike Huff had had it with lawbreakers. Murderers and rapists - people who had done bad things.
Huff was a prosecutor and his job was to put these people behind bars. He won many cases -- made the streets safer for residents of Athens County. But over the years, something happened. The day in, day out exposure to crimes and criminals made Huff less humane. In his mind, the defendants were all scum -- forget about justice and doing what's right, he thought, just take 'em away and lock 'em up. "It was a pretty hateful attitude toward defendants," he said. "They weren't the same kind of people. They were all bad."
That was several years ago. Today, Huff is a different man. He's retired for one thing. But more important, he now recognizes lawbreakers as people who need help and he wants to give it.
He does that by going to prison, giving men hope and something to live for and convincing them to turn their lives around. The prison is the Hocking Correctional Facility.
Victor Marshall is the chaplain there and he knows Mike Huff as a Kairos volunteer. "Kairos is really in my estimation one if not the premiere Christian-based prison ministries in the nation and ultimately has an international influence as well," says Marshall. "Here at Hocking it has had a profound impact on the department I run, the religious services department."
John Johnson is an inmate Kairos participant. "2008 December I came here and I found out that they had Kairos so I went in and talked to the chaplin," says Johnson. "These people were there to look after you, to help you. I don't mean what's commissary. I don't mean, oh, here's a place to live. I mean it was all about the saving of the soul."
Johnson is in prison for murder. He's been behind bars for 35 years, more than half his life. "I don't know whether I'll get out, if I ever get out. So I concern myself with things that might be more important. And from my point of view, spiritually, that's your soul. I don't know anything else as of right now as far as instructions go that teach you better than the Kairos members about Jesus Christ and God," says Johnson.
At first, Johnson had reservations about Mike Huff. After all, Huff was responsible for taking away the freedom of guys like him. "Mike Huff, everybody in here knows, he is a prosecutor. Some of the peope...they're responsible for putting people on this side of the fence. You would think that we would begrudge him any of this. We don't because Mike Huff comes from his heart. He's really dealing from a spiritual standpoint. He's concerned about your spiritual upbringing and your soul and what he's trying to help these guys do. We recognize he's about the right thing. He's not here to play games and we respect him for that."
Chaplain Marshall says there's "a real bond that develops" between Huff and the prisoners. "I was severly convicted of in my own attitude years ago and that led me into discovery of the value of prison ministry," says Huff.
Huff visits the Hocking Correctional Facility on a regular basis. "Prayer and Share" is one of his favorite nights. Huff talks intimately with the inmates, sharing his religious convictions.
It all started nearly 10 years ago. Huff turned to his pastor for help because he was burned out as a prosecutor. "It was affecting my effectiveness as a prosecutor...and my personal life," he says.
The pastor reminded Huff that he really wasn't so different from the people he was taking to court and putting behind bars. "He spun me back around," says Huff. "They're children of God just like you."
The advice worked. Huff came out of his funk and was reinvigorated. His first involvement with Kairos was tentative and came in 2005. "It happened at Ross Correctional Institute," says Huff. Prison officials welcome civilians who participate in programs for inmates but Huff was not your typical civilian.
He was a prosecutor. He was a guy whose job it was to be against the inmates. "The warden said, frankly, that gives me the heebie-jeebies," Huff says. "That gives me security issues."
Huff says his Kairos volunteering has never included someone he prosecuted. And he's never had a problem with a resentful inmate.
Mike Huff is retired now. Well, semi-retired.
He left the Athens County Prosecutor's Office earlier this year and drives to Meigs County a couple times a week to work part time as a public defender. And he continues volunteering with Kairos. "Our intent is to form solid, Christ-centered communities within the walls and let the residents participate...and form long-lasting bonds," he says. "I think that is a needed step in any rehabilitation."
Hocking Correctional Warden Sam Tambi appreciates what Huff and other Kairos volunteers do at the prison and hopes more people get involved.