With his booming voice and large stature, the Rev. Charles Davis Jr. is an intimidating presence at first glance. But when he talks about his work as the leader of Full Gospel Baptist Church in Cooksville, he immediately becomes a “down to earth, loving and caring person,” as church member Gladys Staton described him.
Davis, 58, has been bringing spiritual guidance and ministry to incarcerated individuals at Howard County Detention Center for the past 26 years.
As a volunteer, Davis leads a weekly Thursday night Bible study with those in the detention center, bringing together between 16 to 25 men each week. He also offers spiritual guidance through one-on-one sessions, has spoken on behalf of people in court, leads worship services and conducts baptisms in prison.
“The main thing is helping them spiritually,” Davis said. “And being able to let them know that there is hope even in a hopeless situation, in a hopeless place.”
Since beginning his work at the Howard County Detention Center, Davis has expanded his services to Jessup Correctional Institute, Patuxent Institution and the Maryland Correctional Institution’s Hagerstown location.
A native of Washington, D.C., Davis said he was first approached in 1990 by the Rev. Robert Miller, who was volunteering in the detention center at the time, to do ministry work in the facility. Davis said he was initially hesitant, having seen several of his friends and neighbors serve time.
“I had too many of my schoolmates and friends that were in prison and I had no real desire to just go to any prison unnecessarily,” Davis said. “But then the next year … he asked me again, ‘come on Brother Davis and go with me to the prison, all you have to do is just come and be with me, and I went in October of 1991. And I haven’t left.”
Davis also spent more than 20 years volunteering as the chaplain for the District’s youth detention centers, a job he only recently retired from in the last few months. As the chaplain, Davis said he worked to help children learn about life and God.
“Older people know; younger kids don’t know, they don’t have a clue. Some of them don’t have a clue as to what life is,” Davis said.
Robert Sutton, a recreation therapist in D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said Davis excelled at working with youth because of his ability to get them to open up and share their feelings.
“He was stern, he was fair and he was honest,” Sutton said. “His one-on-one skills are tremendous. He can deal with a kid, and they listen to what he was saying. His best quality is to be able to listen and to understand.”
Sutton said she’s experienced Davis’ ability to take people as they are, calling Davis a “fisherman of men.”
“One of the reasons why he’s able to continue to serve at the jails is because he does share a piece of himself with them,” she said. “So many other pastors will see where you are in life, they’ll try to clean you up before they bring you into the church, and Pastor Davis does not do that. He lets you know ‘hey you’re here, you’re in a dark place, but we love you anyways.’”
That ability to empathize with those in the detention centers is not something Davis takes lightly. He said his goal is to help change the mindset of those incarcerated, so as to hopefully change their lives.
Davis said he can see the difference in those who begin to find religion while at the center,.
“I can see it in their walk. There’s a light that will glow,” Davis said. “ They’re coming to the chapel, that means that he’s searching for something.”
Gerard Washington, the chaplain for Howard County Detention Center for the past 17 years, said Davis is able to help change lives through his work.
“He is transparent and is able to show first and foremost that he cares, which makes it easy for an inmate to drop his guard and let him know what they’re going through,” Washington said. “When they leave they’re always asking me where his church is.”
Recently, as the county continues to struggle with a growing opioid abuse epidemic, Davis has publicly opened up the doors of his Cooksville church to those in recovery. At a town hall in November, Davis said he and the church were open to those in recovery who are in need of “spiritual guidance.”
Davis said he and leaders from other churches in the area, including Mount Gregory United Methodist Church in Cooksville, are hoping to host a community town hall to discuss the opioid epidemic and its effect on the community.
“A lot of people may know that they can go and look for recovery, but you’ve gotta first seek help spiritually as well. You need spiritual guidance to move from here to here,” Davis said. “I just wanted the community to know that Full Gospel is one of the churches that will open their doors.”
Davis said it’s hard to grow comfortable visiting a prison, but the work he does is important to help people see the hope and love that remains in their lives even in a dark setting.
“Even though I’ve been going there since 1991, my soul has still not gotten comfortable in being there. It’s not a place that one should ever find comfort in going into,” Davis said. “I want them to know that even in the prison, you still can have a blessing and be a blessing. There’s still hope. There is love that will come from Him, and all you have to do is give Him your very best.”