History of Jail Chaplains Ministry

In 1979, Cass County Sheriff Don Rudnick appointed Pastor Curt Frankhauser as a volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office. Chaplain Frankhauser began by helping deputies make death notifications and providing ministry to inmates.  

A volunteer board was formed and in May of 2006 the Peace Officers Jail Chaplains Association received nonprofit status.  Today the organization does business as Jail Chaplains and has a mission of ‘restoring lives with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.’   

The new Cass County Jail, a 348-bed facility, opened in the fall 2012.  Designed with a room specifically for programs this greatly expanded opportunities for the ministry. 

In April 2007, Mike Sonju was hired as a full-time chaplain providing a daily spiritual presence for the inmates and staff at the jail.  Chaplain Mike, along with a team of volunteers provide a wide range of Christian faith-based programs for both men and women inmates to include bible studies, life skills training such as anger management along with knitting and church services.  

Pastor Frankhauser lead the ministry as the Executive Director through the end of 2012.  He was assisted by Debbie Trombley who served as a part-time development support staff for a period of time.

In May 2012 the Jail Chaplains board hired the Gerri Leach as the first full time Executive Director.  Gerri was mentored by Pastor Curt until his retirement in December of that year.  

Under Gerri’s leadership the Jail Chaplain's was involved in providing accountability housing through Project HOME for 2013 - early 2017.  The Jail Chaplain's team of volunteers grew both in numbers and the impact made in the lives of the men and women discipled.

The opioid drug crisis hit Fargo-Moorhead in the spring of 2016 and law enforcement leadership came to the faith community saying, “we can’t arrest our way out of this, we need your help.”  The Jail Chaplains team saw church leaders struggle with what how to be helpful.  A few months later a faith based small group model called Living Free came to their attention.

November 1, 2017 Dr Jack Klugh was hired on a part-time basis as the Living Free Coordinator to help Jail Chaplains integrate the small groups into the ministry.  The first training seminar was hosted in January, 2018 with an attendance of 93 participants who came from 25 different churches.  

July 1, 2018 Jail Chaplains hired Eric Johnson as the full time Living Free Coordinator.  Eric manages the Living Free groups in the jail as well as the small groups hosted in a variety of locations across the community and in churches.   It has been amazing to see the number of volunteers who have become engaged in through the training and faithfully serve as facilitators for the groups which cover a variety of topics including; anger, fear, depression, grief, Stepping into Freedom, Godly Parenting, Committed Couples and Concerned Persons.

Last year 10,153 inmates were books into the Cass County Jail.  Integration of the Living Free model has strengthened the faith-based programing Jail Chaplains provide.  The small groups teach life skills from a Biblical perspective, the group format encourages participant engagement and we are more consistent in coaching our volunteer team members.

There are currently five Living Free small groups being offered in the jail.  There is now a solid bridge for the inmates as they are released.  They have the option to continue a group of the same topic in the community as they started in jail. 

Thank you to everyone who partners with Jail Chaplains as we take Jesus to jail and disciple men and women as they re-enter the community.  Together we are making a difference for eternity!  


Current Board of Directors

Nancy Schafer, Chair
Leonard Sliowski, Vice Chair & Treasurer
Keith Burck, Secretary
Joyce Bruns
Jonas Bundy
Carrie McLeod
Kathy Spriggs
Gerri Leach, Executive Director