Volunteer Ellie Mann, of West Bend, and Brian Doiron, an inmate from Mason City, serving five years for theft at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, are probably about as unlikely a pair of table companions as one is likely to find.
While the two have different life experiences, on Saturday during the third-annual Agape Thanksgiving Banquet Program, they two were able to share a strong common connection - their faith.
Doiron said he had a strong church based life before coming to prison but that an attempt to live life on his own non-faith-based terms failed him.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Volunteer Ellie Mann, of West Bend, chats with Fort Dodge Correctional Facility inmate Brian Doiron, of Mason City, during the third annual Agape Thanksgiving Banquet Saturday afternoon.
"I took my eyes off God for a few seconds," he said, "You do things your way, your way don't get it."
He said he's found the support he needs to cope with life in prison through the Agape Church Kingdom Dominion Ministries outreach into the prison.
"I stay busy spiritually," he said.
Mann said she has seen change in the inmates who participate in the program.
"They've found their faith," she said, "That makes all the difference in the world."
Inmate Wayne Smith said he found his faith behind the walls in the Agape ministry.
"I never went till here," he said.
He too has found that his faith helps him cope better with the environment behind bars.
"I don't know how I lived for 42 years without it," he said.
He compares attending the group's services to family and likens his faith experience to being wrapped in a protective cocoon.
During the program, inmate Clyde Johnson performed the song "Where You There When They Crucified My Lord?"
Johnson, 80, accompanied himself on guitar.
His performance nearly silenced the room. Only a few faint "Amens" echoed back at the end of some of the lines.
He's been serving time in Iowa for four years. Prior to that, he served 24 in New Mexico.
His said his faith has helped him too.
"When I accepted Christ," he said, "it made all the difference."
He has a simple message for other inmates.
"The best thing to do is accept Christ in your life," he said. Not doing so -"That's what got you here."
The Rev. Madai Taylor, pastor of Agape, shared a message with the inmates and volunteers who attended. He said about 150 or so attend the weekly services. Usually around five volunteers come with him to work with the inmates.
"It's beautiful when we get together like this," he said.
Taylor compared life without faith to walking down a road where somebody is throwing rocks at them.
"The devil's throwing the rock at you," he said. "Jesus, he wants to make you better."
When he finished, a hush fell over the room, usually the prison's gym.
"I gave you the keys," Taylor said before pausing.
Someone in the audience finished it for him, quietly whispering "to the kingdom."