ELKHART — In order to work as the chaplain with the 650 or more inmates at the Elkhart County jail, you need to be patient and understanding; and above all, have a genuine sense of compassion.
The people who work with Mike Kupke know that not only does he have all these attributes, but that those qualities have inspired others near him over the last few years.
After 28 years of serving inmates in the Elkhart County Jail, Kupke is retiring. The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department is having an open house today from 2 to 5 p.m. to honor Kupke. The event will be held at the Law Enforcement Center, at 26861 C.R. 26, Elkhart.
Over the last 28 years in service, the Elkhart County Chaplaincy Program has grown, with about 20 volunteer chaplain assistants and more than 700 additional volunteers. Sheriff Brad Rogers, who was jail commander and has known Kupke for many years, said there are about 100 church services held every month in the jail, and another 100 Bible Studies sessions as well.
As chaplain of the jail, Kupke works with other volunteers, making sure all these services and sessions are in place, as well as making sure all inmates who request his service are helped.
“I think (having Kupke) has improved the inmates’ disposition and behavior,” he said. “If you walk through jail you see people are generally relaxed, at peace, not fighting or rioting.”
Rick Lambright, president of the Elkhart County Chaplaincy Advisory Board, has know Kupke for about eight years now.
Kupke would start his day at his office, responding to phone call and emails. Then, he’d walk to the kiosk, where inmates leave requests for him to pick at the beginning of the day, Lambright said. Kupke would then walk around with a tablet of paper, where he would list the names of those who had requested to talk with him. Sometimes he’d work to accommodate inmates’ special religious needs, such as meals or items like prayer rugs or rosary beads. He also oversaw the jail.
He’d try to talk with as many inmates as he could in any given day, but because of the number of inmates and requests, sometimes the volunteer chaplain assistants would help as well.
Lambright said inmates have always had positive feedback to give about Kupke. Over the years, Kupke has created good relationships with many inmates. In several cases, his long-lasting relationships continue when inmates get out of jail and they continue to meet.
And not only did Mike help inmates, he was a good counselor and friend to the correctional officers as well, said Tom Stull, a volunteer in the chaplaincy program and a member of the Chaplaincy Advisory Board.
Now that Kupke is retiring, the Chaplaincy Advisory Board will be working this month to find the next chaplain for the jail.
To be appointed chaplain of a jail, the board will look for someone with a sense of compassion, someone who is experienced and has good people skills. The candidate must also have a flexible schedule.
Those who know Kupke agree that in his 28 years, he has had much of a positive influence on inmates and those who work with him.
“He’s a very humble man, very quiet, reserved, but he’s one who can talk to people like inmates, who are under great deal of stress, give them peace,” said Rogers. “He’s a natural for that position.”
Lambright said if there was something he learned from Kupke, it was that in order to help inmates and in order to show them real compassion, a person must work from the inside to learn not to regard them by their circumstances.
“That was the most important concept I learned from Mike. To show genuine concern,” he said. “Sometimes the inmates just need someone to care.”