Pastor Justin Thacker stands in Praise Assembly of God Church on Dec. 15 in downtown Rumford. He also serves inmates at the Oxford County Jail in Paris. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

SOUTH PARIS — Justin Thacker says he’s in the business of changing lives.

The service he provides doesn’t cost his clients a penny, only an investment of time, faith and determination.

Thacker is pastor at Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford.

To many inmates at Oxford County Jail in Paris, he is the link to salvation and a chance at a better life.

Thacker and four members of his church’s congregation who once were incarcerated at the jail have been meeting with inmates every week for 90 minutes for Bible studies and to sing hymns, but mostly to listen.

The four congregants who accompany him are vital to Thacker’s effort, he said.


“They share their testimony,” he said. “They add so much insight because they’ve worn the orange before. They’ve gone through. They’ve lived there and so we try to bring a message of redemption and that people can change.”

“We help them with what they’re going through, sometimes helping them with returning to the community after release from jail,” Thacker said in a recent interview.

The inmates are mostly men, but inmates from a women’s cellblock will sometimes meet with them separately.

More than anything, Thacker is seeking to make a connection. That might include praying with the inmates, mentoring, letting them vent or merely helping to answer questions plaguing them, he said.

“Where is God in my situation?” they might ask. Or, “How did God let this happen to me?”

His services are well received.


Years ago, before the jail had been reduced to a 72-hour holding facility, he could fill a room at the jail with nearly 50 inmates.

Returned in January to a full-time facility, but, due to the pandemic, jail protocols have restricted that number to eight at a time. Within the past month, scheduling conflicts at the jail have temporarily halted his visits.

Thacker’s ministry doesn’t end at the cell door.

“I have a couple of the guys I’m mentoring now that have been released. A couple of them we helped get into full-time residential rehab centers,” he said.

He recently accompanied a former inmate to court in Rumford as he was seeking visitation with his child and to “try to get back on the right track,” he said.

Sometimes former inmates will use the church as a location for supervised visits with children and name Thacker the supervisor, he said.


Thacker said he can see changes in the inmates with whom he meets and so have the supervisors at the jail.

“When someone writes a letter of appreciation, or thanks us for not giving up on them or coming to spend time with them, even though they maybe made a horrific mistake, that’s kind of how we know we’re being productive and it’s what the Lord would want us to do,” he said.

“That’s what motivates me to keep doing what I do,” he said.

His ministry has “been very difficult in the midst of COVID-19, with mental health issues, or elevated domestic issues or addiction 30% higher,” he said.

“I’ve lost three to suicide,” he said.

“But what keeps me motivated is to see people’s lives change. That’s the business I’m in,” Thacker said.

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