COCHISE COUNTY — The Cochise County Jail has a new chaplain, an Alaskan who says he has a passion for correctional ministry after being called to his vocation by a higher power.
Chaplain Andy Benton says God called him into pastoral ministry after one of his own relatives made some “poor choices.” The family member ended up incarcerated and when Benton began trying to help his loved one, he discovered what he wanted to do — become a jail chaplain.
Benton, who also plays in a band, took time to answer some questions from the Herald/Review so the public can get to know him better.
Herald/Review: Why did you become a chaplain and how did you become one?
Andy Benton: “I became a chaplain after God called me into pastoral ministry. One of my family members made some poor choices which caused them to be incarcerated. I have always wanted to help people, and when one of my loved ones was in need, I did everything I could to help. This led me to find a passion for correctional ministry, and a desire to serve the men and women who are incarcerated, and those that watch over them.
“I began pursuing correctional ministry in 2011 as a volunteer back in Alaska, and then pursued my pastoral call to seminary in Virginia in the fall of 2012.
“During my time in seminary, while working on my undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies, I had the privilege to serve in several ministries in a variety of pastoral roles. These included serving as a college ministries pastor, an associate pastor, a worship pastor, lead pastor and as a jail and prison chaplain throughout the state of Virginia.”
H/R: Why do you want to work as a chaplain for a jail?
AB: “I want to help people, and God has called me into pastoral ministry, specifically in the area of corrections. I want to minister to the men and women of Cochise County whether they are in or out of jail.”
H/R: Can you describe in general what a jail chaplain does?
AB: “Some of the services I provide as the chaplain include planning and administering services and resources, such as Bibles, books and other literature for the spiritual welfare, guidance and growth of our staff and inmates. I also provide counseling and assistance, which focuses on their well-being, and in response to stress or family crisis.
“I also coordinate with our social worker and jail liaison, and other ministries for re-entry programs, promoting crime prevention and inmate rehabilitation through spiritual, educational and vocational programs. These help ex-offenders avoid returning to jail and are designed to help inmates transition, and assist them with employment, clothing, housing, drug and alcohol treatment and other opportunities.
“We also serve with external faith-based groups, and other members of the clergy, to provide a variety of worship services and activities by recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. We also partner with local churches and ministries to develop correctional programs, which help minister to our staff and inmates, and to connect them so they can continue their spiritual growth beyond the jail.”
H/R: What did you do before you became the chaplain at the jail?
AB: “I moved to Arizona last November from Virginia, where I was pastoring a church and attending seminary for my doctoral studies. I also helped to fill the pulpit for a church in the Sonoita area from March through August this past year.”
H/R: How long have you been on the job here in Cochise County?
AB: “I was sworn in as the chaplain for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 24, 2021.”
H/R: Where are you from originally?
AB: “I was born and raised in Sitka, Alaska, and upon graduating from Sitka High School, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps before attending seminary.”
H/R: Working at a jail must be challenging. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time to relax?
AB: “I love spending time with my wife, making music and specifically playing trumpet and singing for the Desert Swing Band. I also like to ride my motorcycle, bladesmithing and rockhounding while collecting minerals and rocks, especially from Arizona.”