By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — When Walter Anderson found himself walking the halls of Lieber Correctional Institution, it was prison ministry that helped him find his way out.
Anderson grew up in a Catholic home, attending St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia as a boy. But as he grew and was faced with life’s temptations, he found himself on a path that landed him in a maximum security prison. The path was not uncommon.
Anderson grew up without knowing his father. His mother died when he was in early childhood, and he was raised by his grandmother. But sometimes even a grandmother’s love is not enough to save a feisty teen.
Anderson went to Columbia High School in the first year of integration. He described himself as prepared to rule the school. Along with his friends, Anderson got into drugs, and he later had an unplanned family. In order to support them, he dropped out of school to get a job. The family didn’t last, but the drug use lingered; it continued while Anderson worked steadily for several years. He later joined his friends as co-owner of a night club, a scene that ultimately led to his incarceration.
When he went to prison, Anderson knew he needed to change. The lack of freedom and the fact that he didn’t want his son, then 10 years old, to grow up without a father moved him to do better.
“I think it’s all a matter of timing — when men are ready to surrender themselves and when they come upon His Way (Ministry),” said Kathy Pittman, mentor and friend of Anderson, who works with His Way Ministry.
Pittman and Anderson met when Anderson found his way to His Way — right on time.
The prison ministry program prepares men and women for life outside of prison. It shows them how to be strong in character and prayerful in life. It is an ecumenical organization founded by Jack McGovern, a Blessed Sacrament parishioner.
“It was easier,” said Anderson of living a nightclub lifestyle. “You’ve got to make an extra effort to be Christian.”
After serving two years and seven months in prison, Anderson is making that extra effort. “It’s hard serving God and being a Christian.”
With the help of his mentor, he’s winning the battle of effort vs. easy.
“He has walked with the Lord before,” said Pittman, who is a member of Doris Johnson Ministries. While other men in prison have never really known God, she said, Walter’s was a rededication.
“He realized that the one constant in his life has been Jesus. He knew God had given his love and that it was time to return that love,” said Pittman. “Walter sees the light of his path.”
Making a difference
It’s people like Jack Evans who give men like Walter a chance to walk that path.
Evans, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, runs Evans Rule Company, a North Charleston factory that makes tape measures. Evans moved the family business to South Carolina in 1971. A man of quiet humility, Evans is just doing his part.
“If we don’t help them, where do they go,” he said.
Evans works with His Way to find men jobs. Evans Rule Controller Doug Harrison, a longtime prison minister and parishioner of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, introduced the program to Evans.
“There’s a lot of talent [in prison],” said Harrison. “Many are people who made one bad choice.” His mantra is talk all you want, but you better put the words in motion. He put his own words in action by getting his employer involved.
“We’re committed up front to make this work,” said Evans. “We try to do our homework to find a good fit. If there’s a good match, there’s no reason they won’t succeed.”
Evans admits to skirting the system a bit to find a match.
Anderson works in the Refurbishing Department of the Injection Molding Department at Evans Rule. He’s been there for about eight months. And in that time, Evans said Anderson has taken extra steps to organize the department. While in prison, Anderson worked for Evans Rule through the prison industry disassembling tapes.
“It’s a step in faith,” said Evans, but one that he takes readily. He is seeking other companies to take that step with him, ultimately, to create a network of organizations that are committed to supporting programs like His Way. A network would offer a wide variety of positions with varying skill levels and availability. It would also be the best scenario for those wanting to re-enter society and regain control of their lives.
The His Way Ministry program is catching on. While it continues to grow in the Charleston area, a group has formed at St. Anne’s in Rock Hill. They are ready to help men and women take a step in the right direction.