HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The volunteer chaplains corps serving Madison County deputies who work at the Madison County Detention Facility have a unique ministry.
They don't tend to the inmates; they have their own assistance. These chaplains serve the officers strictly.
"We love them. We just come on a regular basis to the jail to visit them, encourage them, become their friend. That's the main thing," said chaplain Reggie Whiddon. "They're just the invisible heroes in our mind. And that's what motivates us to come."
Some corrections officers will confess they often feel forgotten. They, unlike those on patrol on the streets, work inside jail walls to protect the people. They work 12 hours a day alongside people society has locked away, and the public mostly never sees them.
"There's not really that many people you can talk to about this kind of job. It's a real stressful type job," explained Field Training Officer Mike Anderson. "When the chaplains come in, there's always a smiling face, and it's a way to get through."
Wednesday, the chaplains passed out gift bags personalized for each officer. Local churches and schools made it possible, and they even put Christmas cards with handwritten notes in each bag. The bags had deputies' favorite snacks, a Bible, some gift cards, even some games. These were presented to the deputies in appreciation of their work, that many may not even know they do.
"It's a community effort. We as chaplains, we're just the ones who get to deliver it," said Whiddon.
It's all about helping the officers feel remembered this holiday season. And it seems to have worked. Some were overwhelmed when given their gift bags, accompanied by a hug from a chaplain.
"I can't begin to express the thanks I have for these guys. The love that I have for them. It's great to know that someone actually cares about what we do," said Anderson.
"We probably get more of a blessing as chaplains than the officers receive," countered Whiddon, "because we get to shake their hand, give them an embrace, look them in the eye, and tell them that we care. And there's a community that cares. And we say thank you."
In a largely negative world, this brought some joy.
"It's Christmas inside the jail. It really is," said Anderson.
The chaplains recently received national attention for their work with the officers. President Barack Obama awarded them the President's Volunteer Service Award.