Thirteen Rock County Jail inmates in bright orange jail clothes sat at metal tables in pie-shaped cellblock B-1, their Bibles open to the book of Luke, Chapter 2.
The verses detailed the birth of Jesus Christ in graceful yet stark terms: the cold night air of Bethlehem and the animal sounds, odors and dirt of a manger birthplace. But also, as the book tells, angels were there.
Above inmate Henry Blount’s head, the upper-level cellblock’s catwalk wall had finger smears from inmates who had chalked their hands Tuesday afternoon with pencil graphite to mark how high they could jump.
Now it was Tuesday night. Church hour.
Blount, 55, whose residence is jail cell B-1-8, bowed his head and muttered under his breath as Mike Pease, a Rock County Jail Chaplaincy volunteer from a Beloit church, delivered to inmates in Blount’s pod a Christmas sermon peeled from the pages of Luke. He offered the men a prayer of “hope, encouragement and peace.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Yes, sir,” Blount said softly, as if to accept Pease’s message. He sat apart from the other inmates.
Mostly, Blount of Beloit was accepting a moment in time—a 30-minute religious ceremony that served as a reprieve from the regular evening routine of dinner and bed. On the table next to him was a soft shoe insole with a cribbage board drawn on it.
Blount has been in jail for almost a year for repeat intoxicated driving, according to court records—what he calls “drinking and driving.” Some of his family members don’t even know he’s in jail.
“It’s my first Christmas in jail. My first time being in this kind of trouble,” Blount said. “We’re all in jail. So that’s the story. It’s … it’s hard.”
Pease, an elder at The Father’s House in Beloit, is one of a core of volunteer ministers who deliver sermons and ministries every Tuesday night to inmates through the Rock County Jail Chaplaincy program. The program has run, in one form or another, for more than 40 years.
On Tuesday, eight volunteers preached to inmates in several cellblocks at the jail. Pease delivered verses, a sermon and led singing of Christmas carols in two blocks that house men awaiting court appearances or sentencings.
It’s Pease’s third Christmas season visiting the jail as a minister.
He told the inmates that his father, a minister, has memory problems. But Pease said he remembers for his dad the Christmas Eves his dad spent reading from the book of Luke. The inmates in one of the cellblock pods answered by singing “Silent Night! Holy Night!”—not once, but twice.
“The first time I came, I thought, ‘There’s no way they’d be into this.’ But it surprises me, always,” Pease said. “Tonight was the best I’ve heard them sing, ever.”
In cellblock B-2, 11 men took in a service led by Pease. A few inmates who had opted out of the service raised a racket from inside their cells. One of the inmates taking in the service went to the cell door to quiet the noise.
“We’re in church, bro!” he said. His voice was calm but had a hard edge.
Timothy Kyser, 26, sat on metal steps that rose to the catwalk, tracing the verses of Luke with a hand tattooed with a name faded to near-illegibility. Kyser, a tall, lanky man from Beloit, said he has been in jail 19 days. He said he came in on a probation violation.
Court records show he has a recent history of criminal drug possession charges.
Rock County Jail Sgt. Andy Reed walked over to Kyser, who was expecting a visit at 8 p.m. In the jail, a visit at night means talking to someone via an electronic video phone that hangs on the cellblock’s wall. Reed rescheduled Kyser’s visit to 8:30 p.m.
“I don’t wanna miss this right now,” Kyser said. “I don’t wanna ruin this service.”
Pease delivered a prayer as the men in orange watched him. One man buried his head in his hands. When he pulled his hands away, his eyes were not wet with tears. His face appeared resigned. Across the room, a man in his 20s appeared bored, but he held a prayer booklet in his hand.
“Touch these men,” Pease said in prayer. “Hear their hearts cry.”
A voice came over the pod’s intercom system. It was not a celestial voice. It was a jail security officer telling Pease his half-hour of ministry was up. The cell door opened. Pease stepped out into air that felt 10 degrees cooler.
Before he went, Kyser offered a thought.
“It makes a difference for someone to come in when they don’t have to. They come in, and we can see somebody different, talk to somebody different,” he said. “That’s good, because we don’t get to go home.”
The Milton City Council on Tuesday approved the sale of 5.78 acres to a Lake Geneva tennis company looking to build a new home for the UW-Whitewater men’s and women’s tennis teams.
Developers with Midwest Tennis Center recently approached the city to purchase a lot at 1181 Gateway Drive, just east of Kwik Trip along Highway 59, to house a 54,000-square-foot, six-court indoor tennis facility.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the purchase.
The purchase is contingent on approval of a TIF development agreement and site plan approval. The purchase price is $1, which is common when sides enter a TIF development agreement, City Administrator Al Hulick said.
The company is expected to bring a TIF development agreement to the city next month, he said.
The city’s plan commission will also need to approve rezoning the property from industrial to commercial—or grant the project a conditional-use permit—before construction can begin, Hulick said.
Midwest Tennis Center owner Paul Lauterbach grew up playing tennis in Janesville and thought Milton would be a good location for a new facility for UW-W, he said.
The university has been looking for a new indoor facility for some time. The teams currently use Midwest Tennis Center’s Lake Geneva site, but the company is excited to provide a facility closer to campus, Lauterbach said.
The company has a relationship with Frank Barnes, the head coach for the men’s and women’s tennis teams at UW-W who also coaches at Midwest Tennis Center’s Lake Geneva facility, Lauterbach said.
The facility, pending future approvals, would be a private tennis club offering lessons and tennis programming to members in addition to hosting UW-W tennis practices and meets. It will not include a fitness center, Lauterbach said.
UW-W Athletic Director Todd Garzarelli said the university will lease space at the facility for an amount to be determined.
Indoor meets and practices will be hosted at the Milton facility, Garzarelli said, but the Warhawks will still use the outdoor courts in front of the Williams Center on campus for outdoor competitions.
The company hopes to have the facility up and running next fall. Total cost is not yet final, Lauterbach said.
Roderick G. Brunton Jr.
Duane “Dewey” Hudson
Mirna I. Jagielski
Michael “Mike” Krause
Joy S. Lee
Anne M. Renly
Vicki Lynn (Kemp) Romero
Marilyn M. Sievert
Donald W. Streicher
Russell “Buck” Van Zandt
Elizabeth R. Witzel