"IF I CALL YOUR WIFE A WHORE, I DON'T HAVE TO ADMIT THAT I'M A JERK" or "HOW TO KEEP THE JAILS TOO FULL" : THE SHERIFF SOLLIE/DENNIS MARKS STORY

 In early 2007, The Meridian Star printed an article about the recidivism rate (repeat offenders going back into our prisons) as being at a rate of 85%. The Lauderdale County Prison ministry group was soliciting volunteers to help*.

Pastor Wade Demers of Christ's Church In Action (CCIA), with his varied background and 25+ years in the ministry, went down to the Lauderdale County Prison to offer his assistance.  Chaplain Dennis Marks, in the reception area where the offices are, began expressing insults to Pastor Demers and his wife.  The most absurd of his statements were directed at Mrs. Demers, when he actually said to her, among other things: “YOU’RE AN ADULTERESS!”  He then demanded that they leave the building.  He was totally out of control. 

Pastor Demers and his wife had only gone down there to offer to help, as a response to the solicitation in the newspaper.  

Below is a letter that Lucinda Johnson (Executive Assistant to CCIA) wrote to Sheriff Billy Sollie at the time, regarding this whole situation and the fact that declining the offer of Pastor Demers’ experience and help was detrimental to the goals expressed in the article and to Sheriff Sollie’s goals of reducing the recidivism rate. 

It is interesting to note that, according to Ms. Johnson, neither Sheriff Sollie nor anyone from the prison (or prison ministry) ever even had the courtesy to reply to Ms. Johnson’s letter, even though Sheriff Sollie himself was complaining that his jail was overcrowded.  Here he had someone offering to assist with this, and he never took any action on it; he allowed his prison chaplain to act terribly towards this man and his wife who were offering to help.  This letter was also sent to numbers of center of influence-type people in Meridian, Mississippi and Lauderdale County, and was ignored. 

I myself wonder why Ms. Johnson even bothers to continue to try and communicate with many of these people.  Most never even bother to give her the courtesy of a reply.  I guess she continues in the hope that someone, someday, will care. 

Below is the text of the letter.  Details of Chaplain Marks’ outbursts are in the “P.S.” at the end.

                                               

                                                                                                                                                March 6, 2007

 

Sheriff Billy Sollie

2001 5th Street

Meridian, MS 39307

 

Dear Sheriff Sollie: 

            My name is Lucinda Johnson, and I am currently the Executive Assistant at Christ’s Church in Action of Mt. Zion here in Meridian.  I am a 53 year old, former elementary school music teacher and former business owner who relocated here to Meridian about 2 years ago.

            I am concerned about the treatment of my Pastor and his wife by you and by some of your staff.  There seems to be some kind of misunderstanding, and misunderstandings are best resolved by open communication between the parties.  I am hoping that this letter will provide some clarification for you.

Pastor Demers had spoken with you by phone a few days ago, regarding an article in the Meridian Star about the prison ministry in which the 85% recidivism rate was mentioned as well as a request for volunteers to help (see article, enclosed).  He felt that with his experience, he could provide positive input that would truly help to reduce recidivism in the Lauderdale County System.

            You were very nice to him and told him that you would be glad to sit down with him and that you would get someone from your chaplaincy team to sit down also.  You said to call you at your office to set something up.

            Pastor Demers had his wife call on his behalf in order to set up the appointment.  She introduced herself and said that she was calling to make the appointment.  You basically told her that you weren’t going to set up the meeting because you had a fine program and that you were happy with what you had.  She was surprised at your sudden turnaround, and tried to explain that her husband wasn’t trying to change your system around, but that he just had some input to give which might be helpful.[1]

            You kept coming back at her and saying:  “there’s no need for any appointment…we’re happy with what we have.”  Mrs. Demers said, “Is it wise to refute before one listens?  My husband has some things to share that would be helpful.”[2]  But you kept shutting her down.  (The only reason she was persistent is because she had been told that you were the one who said to Pastor Demers to call and make an appointment, and she just couldn’t understand why you switched to the opposite stance, like night & day.)

            Later that day, Pastor Demers and his wife were in town, and so they stopped by to see you personally because the pastor didn’t understand your abrupt change in attitude, and thought that there must be some explanation or misunderstanding.  And he was not afforded the opportunity to talk to you directly.  You wouldn’t talk to them and walked right by them…then you sent Major Reece to talk to them, and she acted abruptly and rudely.

            She kept demanding that Pastor Demers tell her what he was there for and what he was going to talk to you about.  When Pastor Demers would attempt to answer her questions, she would accuse him of preaching to her and would get angry.

            Obviously, there is something not right here, i.e. for you and your staff to act in such an uncharacteristic, discourteous, and unprofessional manner.  Perhaps you have been influenced by Chaplain Marks or by other slanderous sources, for something had to account for your drastic shift…

            Might you consider that you have made an error by judging a man you don’t know?

           

I have known Pastor Demers and his wife for over 25 years…I was his wife’s roommate before they got married.  These are two people of the utmost integrity…Pastor Demers and his wife are committed to living by the bible and would die to do so…I realize that that makes them different, but that is what God expects.

Let me tell you a bit about Pastor Demers and his wife:

Pastor/Apostle Demers and his wife are a couple in their late 50’s.  They have been married for 21 years.  The pastor is educated and has a varied life experience.

He has a bachelor’s and masters in industrial engineering, operations research, and computer science. 

He was a captain in the United States Army.

He owned and was CEO of Crown International Corporation.  He owned and was president and CEO of Jade Enterprises.

He has worked in internal consulting in Management Information Systems in large corporate environments.

He has worked in industrial administration in Washington, D.C.

He has worked in medical engineering.

He served as chairman of the Boy Scout troop in his hometown. 

He has been a Webeloes troop leader.

Weekends and summers while getting his education, from the age of 14, he also worked construction and manual labor, as well as collection and sales.

He has traveled extensively.

Over the years, his hobbies have included weightlifting, astronomy, coin collecting, gourmet cooking, waterskiing, hiking, fishing, camping, golf, woodworking…he was the head coach of the Phenix Athletic Association, and has piloted an airplane.

His training for his office of apostle has taken him into many places and circumstances that broadened his perspective much beyond his varied prior experiences.

As an apostle he has multifaceted responsibilities beyond Meridian—e.g., he is currently interfacing with the president of the Messianic Jewish Movement International as part of the restoration of God’s church, looking forward to bringing that restoration to Israel.

He has preached on the streets, in the pulpit, and to people from all walks of life, from “under the bridge” to “king-makers” and government leaders.

He has ministered to everyone from petty thugs and druggies to nationally known Mafia chieftains.

He has slept in the streets with the homeless, fed multitudes, and held services outdoors for entire communities of those too poor to go elsewhere.

For decades, he and his wife have taken poor families and individuals into their home, variously for physical, mental and spiritual rehabilitation.  He and his wife have taken in well-educated, well-positioned professional community leaders with substance abuse and other issues, for detox and spiritual and physical rehabilitation.

Pastor Demers and his wife have been involved for years in helping dysfunctional families get under control and have kept and restored faltering or broken marriages, e.g. most recently with a United States NCO returning from Iraq, whose wife was on her way to the lawyer’s office to file for divorce when the pastor and his wife met her at God’s direction.  The family of five is now together and the man is youth pastor at his church here in Meridian.

Pastor Demers and his wife have experienced persecutions to include:  beatings, threats against and to their children, undermining of their children, arson, edict by the Roman Catholic Bishop to have Pastor Demers “destroyed” in his home state[3], constant threats, slander in the media (which is still on the internet to this day), and framing by the highest levels of government, leading to false imprisonments.

Beyond the constant threats, he has been extorted by high level government officials and Catholic Church leaders…and physically assaulted by Catholic priests and Protestant pastors.

For over 20 years, his family has been put under incredible stress…

And it is only this week that his oldest son (36) is returning to Meridian for rehabilitation and restoration to his family…(when he recovers he will have quite a story to share of what it is like to be the child of a true man of God experiencing persecution seldom seen in Western Civilization in modern times).      

            Remember, you are the one who told Pastor Demers, in your own driveway years ago (when you were running for office) that you were an honest man and you were willing to listen to him…well, perhaps now is the time to keep your word.

            You know, you and/or your chaplaincy team may not agree with the ultra-conservative Christian beliefs that Pastor Demers believes that Jesus taught in the Bible…but we need to realize that there are many different belief systems which are held by people in this nation…that includes the people who are behind bars.  Certainly the incarcerated Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist’s needs for rehabilitation shouldn’t be dependent on their being converted to a specific brand of Christianity espoused by the chaplaincy team.  And, if that be true, then certainly conservative Christianity should not be unconsidered in the overall rehabilitation effort in the Lauderdale prison system.

            The aforesaid fact is strongly supported by:

1)      The status quo has not much budged the 85% recidivism rate for years, even though chaplaincy efforts have been lauded for those same years;

2)      Doesn’t it follow logically that perhaps a stricter, more conservative and fundamental adherence to the teachings of Jesus might, for those who can accept it, produce the obvious result of the tendency to not go back to a life of crime?

 

Something seems illogical in saying that we’re trying to reduce the rate of recidivism and, at the same time:

a)      trying to limit ourselves to existing patterns and teachings in rehabilitation; and

b)      not taking time to consider an approach that has been limited in scope but has been more successful with percentages where it has been applied.

 

To neglect an opportunity for reduction in the rate of recidivism based on turf wars, bigotry, bias, or ignorance seems to be counterproductive to our common overall objective of a safer community, resulting from the permanent restoration of as many lives coming out of the prison as possible.

No one is saying, or has said, that there are any guarantees here.  But we are saying that we believe that there is an approach which has not been considered nationally in spiritual rehabilitation throughout this country’s prison systems…an approach which has proven successful with that which might be considered a small test group.

Why not consider the outside possibility that this is the breakthrough in rehabilitation for a small but significant subset of those who are potential repeat offenders…the breakthrough that this whole nation has been seeking for decades?

This type of thing has to start somewhere—why not right here in Lauderdale County?

No one is asking for a decision for implementation—we are just asking for time and for an open listening ear for consideration…the worst case scenario is that some time will be spent hearing an approach which you don’t feel is valid.

But what if, after listening, by your experience in law enforcement and with people, you see some wisdom in the approach?  You are the paid elected official, with, I’m assuming, an oath sworn to serve the people.  It is you who would receive the accolades and the benefit, if there is any success in reducing the rate of recidivism.

Pastor Demers is an unpaid volunteer, willing to offer his time to share with you wisdom that he has proven in limited applications…and he is not expecting to receive the slightest benefit, no matter what the outcome of your expected interactions.  When he read the things in that article, he was moved to make an attempt to share the things with the people in this community to and through a man whom he had met many years ago in that man’s driveway…a man who had impressed him as being sincere and perhaps a cut above the norm.

Would you kindly consider taking some time from your busy schedule, or (as Pastor Demers would be willing to do) even on your “off time,” for the sake of the community, to sit down with Pastor Demers at your office, or at our church headquarters here in Meridian, to just listen and to ask questions…so that you would be in a position to understand that which Pastor Demers would like to share with you? 

By the way, Pastor Demers has taught me and others to never judge anyone based on what others say or what we read in print, but to test the measure of the person by our own personal interaction.  I would hope that you can see the wisdom in that. 

But even if you feel that Pastor Demers is the most terrible person in the history of the world, should that not be irrelevant to the possibility that he might share with you that which might be useful in making Lauderdale County a little bit safer and perhaps lead to a pilot program that could be duplicated in other systems?

As Pastor Demers always says:  Is it wise to refute before one listens?  I think not…what say you?

And, “Do not judge an Indian until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Also, Jesus said:  “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.”

 

I look forward to your professional response to my letter.

 

                                                            Sincerely,

 

 

                                                            Lucinda Johnson

                                                            Executive Assistant

                                                            Christ’s Church in Action

                                                            4015 Paulding Street

                                                            Meridian, MS 39307

                                                                          (601) 482-8150         (601) 482-8150

 

Enclosures

 

P.S.   By the way, I tried to reach you by phone concerning these matters, and you were not available, so I asked to speak to Major Reece about the concern that I have.   Sad to say, I was treated terribly by her.

            I called to ask her why she had been rude to my pastor and his wife yesterday…she was very rude to me, and admitted such to me on the phone…I had never spoken to her before in my life, and I was taken aback by her nasty attitude!

            The way this all started was, Pastor Demers and his wife Patti had stopped in recently to pay a friendly visit to Chaplain Marks, to offer to help with the recidivism problem, and he was very rude to them…among other things, he called their marriage into question and loudly proclaimed that Mrs. Demers was an adulteress(!)…let’s see, what would you do if someone insulted your pastor’s wife like that?  (Or your wife? Or someone else you cared about?)

            When I made a courtesy call to Chaplain Marks to ask him about this, he flew off the handle and started yelling at me on the phone, he acted like a crazy man.  He threatened to have me arrested for harassing phone calls if I ever called him again and he hung up on me!  That day was the first day I ever spoke to Chaplain Marks, ever…            

            Chaplain Marks also slandered Pastor Demers, accusing him of being part of a group that Pastor Demers was never associated with in any way, shape or form…Chaplain Marks has been seriously misinformed, and I was merely trying to let him know this and to let him know what the truth is, when he went crazy on me.  I was very polite and there was no call for this…

Subsequently, out of concern for his behavior, I wrote a short letter to Major Reece regarding Chaplain Marks' inexplicable behavior (I have enclosed a copy.)

Likewise, as with Chaplain Marks—with Major Reece, there was no call for her rudeness to me…why didn’t she just ask me what I meant instead of insisting over and over again that she wasn’t rude? I don’t know if you were one of the people who were there—she informed me at the end of the call that I was on speakerphone (I don’t mind, but she should have made me aware that there were other people who were party to our conversation)…but, at one point when I told her she was being rude to me, she said, “Yes, I am, but this is nothing compared to what I CAN do.”  `It was shocking to me, it came out of left field, and it was quite intimidating, unprofessional, and totally uncalled for…I had never spoken to her before in my life, and we had only been on the phone for a few minutes…

I have been doing some studying of the civil rights movement, and it seems that, here in Meridian, religious bias, prejudice and hatred have replaced the racial bias…at least in our situation.  How else can you explain such irrational behavior?  Is Mississippi burning again?

 

P.P.S.  The fact that Dennis Marks has accused Pastor Demers’ wife of being an adulteress and accused Pastor Demers of being part of an organization which he has never had any dealings or contact with whatsoever, should be irrelevant.  And as for Dennis Marks’ so-called “research” on the internet, my suggestion would be that you think about newspaper articles which have been written about you and others over the years…the true story is much more interesting than the fantasy woven by Pastor Demers’ detractors. 

But again, even if you believe what Chaplain Marks was screaming at Pastor Demers’ wife, that should be independent of Pastor Demers’ purpose and cause in reducing the rate of recidivism.  I know that what Dennis Marks said is not true; as I said, I have known Pastor Demers and his wife for over 25 years…and I was there to witness the slander in the media and was eyewitness to the unpublished truth…but the fact that I know this is irrelevant…the important thing is that Pastor Demers has information that can help reduce the rate of recidivism.

I wonder if Chaplain Marks realizes that David was a murderer and an adulterer, and that Paul was a murderer of Christians, and God forgave them both.

Myself, I thought that Jesus came to forgive sinners, not condemn them.  And, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God…I praise Jesus for the saving grace of God.

 

HEREIN I HAVE TRIED TO GIVE YOU A SMATTERING OF THIS MAN’S RESUME.

FROM PRISONS TO STATEHOUSES… FROM THE STREETS…TO GREAT WEALTH…WITH THE EDUCATED AND SOCIALLY DISENFRANCHISED…PASTOR DEMERS HAS HAD VARIED EXPERIENCES THAT FEW MEN CAN MATCH…

PERHAPS HE HAS SOMETHING TO OFFER OUR COMMUNITY…IF WE TAKE THE TIME TO LISTEN TO HIM. 



[1] Pastor Demers was merely going to give you some input and information based on his 25 years in street and prison ministry…he has dealt with all manner of people and has devoted his life full-time to this ministry, having given up a life of wealth to do so.  Pastor Demers took a vow of poverty a long time ago, and wasn’t going to receive anything from this; it was just to benefit the community.

 

[2] How can you make a decision to reject something without first listening to it?

[3] It is important to know that Rhode Island is virtually a Roman Catholic city-state under one bishop.

=========================================================

*(To read the article, click here:

http://www.meridianstar.com/archivesearch/local_story_041004932.html)

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UPDATE (11/15/09):  I have just received copies of the following letters.  One is a letter written by Lucinda Johnson to Major Kim Reese of the Lauderdale County Prison System during the time of the events described above.    The other is a letter which was published in The Meridian Star, before the edict from Crystal Dupre disallowing any members/attendees of CCIA from any contact with the newspaper.  (They are not even allowed to place a classified ad in The Meridian Star.  Also see Regarding the Media Blackout.)

 


 

 

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