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State corrections leader trusts God in tackling ‘awesome responsibili

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–The call came over a car phone Jan. 15, 1998. When Mike Haley answered and was instructed by the voice on the other end to “please hold for the governor,” he couldn’t have imagined the opportunity he was about to receive in making a difference in the lives of a large portion of Alabama’s population.
Since that atypical appointment by then Gov.-elect Don Siegelman as commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections, Haley said one of his top priorities, along with maintaining infrastructure and working with law enforcement officials, has been to keep the doors of Alabama’s prisons open to the gospel.
“The Word of God is the only thing that can give [inmates] the freedom they need,” said Haley, who was ordained into the ministry in 1971 at his home church, First Baptist, Bogalusa, La.
“I have assured prison chaplains they have my total support,” he said, speaking of his enthusiastic approval of efforts to evangelize inmates and decrease recidivism, like the recent Bill Glass Weekend of Champions and Prison Fellowship’s The Starting Line ministries among Alabama inmates.
Haley admits that along with a passion for sharing the gospel, he is “one of those people who got hooked on prisons.”
However, working closely with convicted criminals in a prison setting wasn’t exactly a lifelong ambition for Haley, who said his initial goal in life was instead “to be a minister of education at a large Baptist church.”
That desire led Haley to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was assigned to work at a local prison as part of the school’s required field work.
Finding the prison system ripe for missions, Haley continued working at the New Orleans correctional facility for almost four years and eventually was selected as its Protestant chaplain.
Upon graduation, Haley’s dream of serving a large church in an educational capacity soon became a reality, and he had finally achieved his purpose in life — or so he thought.
In 1973, the opportunity arose for him to join the staff of First Baptist Church, New Orleans. Haley accepted the position, yet left 15 months later to become the administrator of the Marengo County (Ala.) jail.
During Haley’s eight-year stay in Marengo County, he helped establish a satellite mental health center at the jail and also served as pastor of Half Acre Baptist Church two Sundays a month.
Then something happened in January 1983 that probably should have caused Haley to question his career choice but instead instigated the opposite reaction.
A close friend of Haley’s, who was a deputy sheriff, was shot and killed while making a routine arrest — a tragedy that Haley said “affirmed my decision” to devoting his life to helping bring criminals to justice.
Nonetheless, Haley took a three-year hiatus from prison work, after being offered a position he called “very unique for an old Baptist boy” — to become the president of Jimmy Swaggart Bible College in New Orleans (now World Evangelism Bible College).
At the time, the college was in the midst of financial and scholastic turmoil following controversy surrounding its namesake pastor.
During Haley’s tenure at the college, which ended in 1991 when he was asked to resign for “not being Pentecostal enough,” Haley helped the school become accredited and approved for student financial aid programs.
He also helped establish a cooperative relationship with New Orleans Seminary. In 1992, following a brief period of transition, Haley was contacted by the Alabama Sheriffs Association and offered a position as director of jail services.
Along with working with architects to design new jails and other related responsibilities, this allowed Haley to get to know then-Lt. Gov. Siegelman. And when Siegelman was elected governor of Alabama in November 1998, Haley faithfully “sat back and waited” to see if it would be the Lord’s will for him to be appointed as commissioner.
Haley understands his role is that of an employee of the citizens of Alabama, rather than the misperception held by some bureaucrats that their constituents work for them.
“I view this job as a servant’s position,” Haley said. “I try to look beyond the trappings of the position and be accountable to the citizens of Alabama.”
And now that he is in office, Haley is busy working to improve the state’s prison system, a task he believes can only be accomplished with the help of God and fellow Christians willing to “hold my arms up in prayer.”
And Haley understands that he is facing “an awesome responsibility.” He explained there are currently 5,000 more inmates behind bars in Alabama — with 115 fewer correctional officers supervising them — than there were only five years ago.
Add to that the lack of adequate funding and other penal issues plaguing the state, and Haley admits the depth of his job can sometimes be overwhelming.
“I could not imagine tackling this without the Lord,” he said.

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  • Jason Skinner