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story.lead_photo.caption Jamestown Baptist Church Pastor David Tolliver has been the chaplain at Jefferson City Correctional Center for seven years. Photo by Julie Smith / California Democrat.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Providing inmates a space to practice their faith is the objective when Jamestown Baptist Church's pastor, David Tolliver, goes to work as chaplain at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

He's been a minister for more than 30 years and started this position because he knew he had the experience and tools to do the job.

"My job is to facilitate, give them the opportunity and resources to participate in their religious programming," Tolliver said.

Sometimes that creates a challenge, because he's promoting religions with which he doesn't agree. There are 10 fully-accommodated faith groups in the facility; Tolliver is of Christian faith.

"I'm a Baptist preacher and that provides a challenge sometimes for me to facilitate groups that are not Christian groups," Tolliver said.

He said the important thing is the respect he has for the people.

"The fact of the matter is I have a job to do," Tolliver said. "My job here at the prison is not to convert everyone here, but to promote the programming."

Resources are not taxpayer supported. Tools, such as Bibles, are donated from groups or purchased through canteen funds.

Prior to his seven years as chaplain, Tolliver worked as a corrections officer in the facility for a year. He said this aided in making his transition less difficult than others.

"I already knew what the prison was like and what they were like," he said. "It's not for everybody. When you walk in and the door slams hard behind you, that'll kinda wake you up a little bit."

He also served in military police for the Missouri Army National Guard and the U.S. Army.

He said some of the most difficult times for the inmates may be the most memorable for him. When a person has a death in the family, Tolliver delivers the message, which he said is a ministerial opportunity.

"I think it's one of the most difficult things about being in prison — when someone in your family dies and you can't be there," Tolliver said.

He added with this job, he is "bringing a little bit of light into an otherwise dark place."

Another positive side of his job is the opportunity to encourage men who are more than likely facing lengthy sentences.

JCCC is a medium- to maximum-security prison with 1,440 general population offenders. An additional 484 offenders are in protective or administrative segregation status.

Toliver said he considers himself to have a good relationship with the people who attend religious programming.

If someone finds they are interested in ministering in a correctional facility, he suggests they contact himself or their local chaplain to volunteer.

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