Chaplaincy blossoms under Argyl Dick’s visions for Oklahoma County Jail
It might seem difficult to be joyful, loving and even funny, when your job takes you to jail every day.
But that is exactly how friends, coworkers and even inmates described Oklahoma County Jail senior chaplain Argyl Dick.
Dick, who has served as chaplain at the Oklahoma County Jail since 1998, and also is chaplain to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office, is retiring Oct. 31, after a 12-year ministry that has seen more than 34,000 inmates come to know Christ.
He was honored at the recent Oklahoma Jail and Prison Ministries Annual Volunteer Appreciation Banquet at Moore, First.
“I am thankful I have the privilege of going to Oklahoma Baptists and saying we have invested our dollars well,” said Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony Jordan. “Argyl is a passionate person who doesn’t go at the business of serving in a half-hearted way. How can you go into jail every day and have joy? It comes from the inside. The power of God in any ministry is marked by transformed lives. I am thankful we have had the privilege to invest in the work Argyl Dick has done.”
The transforming work of the jail chaplaincy program the last 12 years has brought 34,562 professions of faith, 12,251 rededications, 169,996 inmates counseled, 52,292 who signed up for Bible studies, 459,804 Bible lessons completed and 94,084 Bibles given out.
John Wetzel, Oklahoma County Sheriff, who came to Dick and asked him to be chaplain for his office, said Dick has been non-judgmental, a counselor and pastor, not only to the men and women housed in the jail, but also to the men and women who work there.
Two former Oklahoma County Jail inmates, who are now serving time at Mabel Basset Correctional Center, described Dick and his wife, Janel, who serves as his administrative assistant, as loving, funny and real.
“There’s nothing I can’t tell them,” said one of the inmates. “I didn’t want them to know the real me, because I thought they would reject me. But I learned I could tell them anything. They gave me godly advice. I know God placed them in my life at just the right time. I needed so much to be loved unconditionally. I know it’s the Lord working through them. They made me realize I could have a positive impact.”
Dick, a native of Maryland, served as a pastor for 31 years before moving to Oklahoma to enter business with a friend. The business never really got off the ground, so Dick started selling health and life insurance, which he said he hated.
While preaching at a truck stop, sponsored by Yukon, First, at I-40 and Morgan Road, Dick met BGCO chaplaincy specialist Joe Williams, who told Dick he knew of a good full-time ministry for him.
When Williams told Dick Oklahoma Jail and Prison Ministries was looking for a senior chaplain at the Oklahoma County Jail, Dick told Williams he was not interested. Williams asked him to pray about it, then told the president of OJPM that Dick would be calling.
Six months later, Dick called and was told there were several applicants for the job, but “to come down and look things over.”
Once he was taken through the jail and saw the ministry opportunities, he decided it was something for him.
“However, I felt I wouldn’t be selected because other men who applied had been chaplains before,” Dick said.
He was selected, though, and began the job with 5-7 volunteers and no money.
Williams wrote to churches in Capital Association, asking them for support, and e-mailed Jordan with a request for $20,000 from the BGCO for “one of the greatest mission fields in Oklahoma.”
Jordan responded with “request denied. Come see me.”
In his office, Jordan told Williams he denied his request because he asked for a one-time gift.
“I want to make it permanent,” Jordan said.
Dick said he came to the job with a vision of 100 volunteers working at the jail. And that has come to pass. The ministry has gone from one office to three, seeing more than 70 inmates every day on a one-to-one basis. Six male inmates and four female inmates can be seen at one time, with 24-2,500 of them coming to know the Lord every year.
“I tell people if they want to experience the greatest fishing hole in the state, they need to come to the Oklahoma County Jail,” said Dick.
In any one week, the jail houses from 2,300-2,500 inmates, the largest number of any correctional facility in the state.
“Pastors and church members have no idea of the harvest ministry that is here for the local church” said Dick. “On the outside, we spend a lot of time convincing people they are sinners; here they already know.”
After inmates are saved, they have the opportunity to engage in a Bible study, where they answer some 11,000 questions. Then comes Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God,” followed by other discipleship materials.
One of the most productive ministries at the jail, Character, First, came about almost by accident.
“We get the worst of young people, ages 13-17, who are here for rape, armed robbery and murder,” said Dick. “They would tear down the ceilings, setting off smoke and fire alarms. It took about $20,000 to repair the area, then they would do it again.”
When Dick was asked what could be done, he said the young people needed character taught to them. So Dick was given the job of doing just that.
The result is that character has become a trademark of the jail, with both inmates and employees being taught. All employees are given character magazines with each paycheck, and are recognized for one of the 49 character traits their supervisor sees in them. Character boards are in place around the jail and the employee dining room walls sport 49 framed character traits.
“There’s not a religious organization or church that has the impact on individuals and families as does the Oklahoma County Jail,” said Williams, who retired in 2000, but serves as president of OJPM. “People don’t have to go a long distance on mission trips. They can serve right here.”
Dick said when he first arrived on the job, the chaplaincy position was tolerated, but now it is appreciated.
“These 12 years have been the greatest years of my ministry,” said Dick.