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“Street Life”

Chambers says he was saved as an

11-year-old at what he called “a fire and

brimstone revival.”

“I didn’t want to go to hell,” Chambers

says bluntly.

But by the age of 13 he was involved in

“street life,” selling drugs and drinking


“I prayed a prayer in ’94 to the Lord that

when it was time for me to come back

over to serve Him, and really serve Him,

let me know,” Chambers recalls. “I didn’t

believe in half-hearted.”

That prayer came after Chambers, as a

16-year-old, was convicted of murder in a

shooting incident during a dispute over


“I believed that through this incident

God wanted me to serve Him.”

A Call to Ministry while

in Prison

Chambers received a 20 year life sentence

and was content to serve God behind

bars, especially after God impressed on

him in 1997 a calling to preach and teach.

“And He told me to not worry about

getting out (of prison), but be prepared

when the time comes, (and to) look at

prison as a training ground,” Chambers


Chambers would go on to establish a

church inside one prison where there was

no chaplain and also served seriously ill

inmates who were under hospice care.

Having earned a GED in prison, Chambers

later heard about the CIU Prison Initiative,

and was encouraged to apply by a prison

chaplain who said he needed formal

ministry training. He was accepted on his

second application.

“CIU was really challenging,” Chambers

admits. “It was no cake walk.”

After earning his Prison Initiative degree,

Chamber’s first chance to get out of

prison was through a hearing with the

parole board after the first 20 years of his

sentence. He created a “parole package”

explaining the various prison programs he

had been involved in, as well as a five-year

plan for after his release.

“I explained what my desire was and that

my life was in their hands.”

The Parole Board set Chambers free in

2014. His ministry, and his education was

to continue outside the walls.

Outside the Walls Again

Taking life outside prison slowly,

Chambers lived in a transition house in

Greenville, South Carolina before moving

in with an aunt in Columbia and working

in a convenience store. He began

attending Temple Zion Baptist Church

where the director of the CIU Prison

Initiative, The Rev. Andre Melvin is pastor.

By January of 2015, Chambers was

hired as the church’s associate minister,

which includes overseeing the church’s

community outreach, The Nehemiah


Melvin says Chambers’ leadership behind

the prison walls is carrying over to his

work at the church.

“I saw how God used him to organize

ministry at the institution where he was

serving, so he’s strong in leadership and

has administrative ability,” Melvin said.

Additionally, Chambers is assisting

Melvin in developing a program for the

14 Prison Initiative alumni who have been

released from prison, that will help them

adjust to their new freedom.

Back to School

In fall 2015, Chambers enrolled once

again at CIU to begin his bachelor’s

degree in Psychology with a long-term

goal of a master’s degree. He wants to

be a licensed counselor specializing in

marriage and family, and addictions.

“I realize that people need help,”

Chambers said. “With my background of

being in the streets, I understand a lot of

the brokenness. I want to be equipped to

help individuals as well as families.”

That attitude encourages Dr. Steve Farra,

director of the CIU Psychology program.

Farra has taught Chambers on both sides

of the river.

“To think that someone in a maximum

security prison could within a few years

of having me in a Psychology course

at the prison, then become a full-time

student of mine on this side of the river is

wonderful,” Farra said. “Jerry was a good

student there, and he’s a good student

here, with a very clear focus on his future

ministries, using the skills we are helping

him to develop.”

As Chambers is careful to balance

ministry responsibilities and school

at this point, he is looking forward to

another CIU graduation ceremony, this

time walking across the stage of Shortess


“Since 2009 I have been waiting for the

time to come,” Chambers said. “My

family will be rejoicing to see me walk,

understanding where God has brought

me from. I can say that I continue to

trust the Lord to complete the work

which He has begun in me. Walking

across the stage will bring hope and

encouragement to many.”

“(God) told me to not worry about getting

out (of prison), but be prepared when the

time comes, (and to) look at prison as a

training ground.”

–Jerry Chambers



CIU Today