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Atwell Barry Brookshire, Sr., was born on December 24, 1941, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the youngest of six children-three boys and three girls. Shortly after his first birthday, the family moved to Wilmington, NC, where he's lived ever since. His home was a loving one, both parents being present. He and his brothers were very close; they were taught early on how to take care of one another. When the family attended church, whether it was to weekly service or a revival, they all went together.

            Atwell's father was a good provider and cared deeply for every member of his family. Though he worked hard as a shipbuilder, he never neglected to attend activities at school or to celebrate birthdays and other special days as the head of his household. Atwell says he had a very close relationship with his father and could talk to him about anything. He says his father made him feel special.

            While still in grammar and high school, Atwell delivered newspapers and worked in a downtown retail store. After receiving his diploma in 1960 from New Hanover High School, he joined the NC Army National Guard. His active duty time was six months and he served as a medical specialist at Brooke Army Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He achieved the rank of Medical Specialist E-6 during his 12 years of National Guard Service. In 1962, he married, and he and his wife had two children-Barry Jr., and Cynthia Leigh.

            In 1965, Atwell went to work at a local chemical plant, where he worked for 25 years. Starting as a 'c' operator and working up to a senior chemical plant operator. Due to the plant about to close, he moved to another chemical plant in October of 1989. In January 1990, he was injured in a chemical plant accident. A bail of stainless steel wire fell 65 feet to land on his head. He says he remembers taking just two steps and then falling like a tall tree chopped down at the root. His ears began to ring and he felt as though he were being beaten over the head by someone playing a drum. The doctors said at the hospital that he was lucky to have been wearing a hard hat, because it prevented his skull from being crushed and his neck from being broken. Though he had not as yet accepted Jesus as his personal Savior, he knew enough about Him to realize that luck had nothing to do with his life being spared. It was the Lord Himself who had saved his life. He had interceded JUST IN TIME.

            With the passing of days and weeks, the pain from his injury grew worse. Physical therapy had little effect. The pain grew so excruciating that he seriously considered taking his own life. At the crucial moment when his mind was made up to do that, he says, "I reached in my drawer for my .357 Magnum, went down on my knees beside the bed, guided the gun straight into my open mouth, and cocked it. As I was preparing to pull the trigger, the telephone rang. I don't know why I answered it, but the caller was the widow woman from next door needing my son to come move a piece of furniture from her garage. After talking to this woman, I no longer had the desire to kill myself; instead, I decided to call the psychiatrist whose care I was under. He told me that by taking my life, I would free myself from my pain but I would create pain for Betty Ann and Barry and Cynthia. The Lord had His eye on me, for it was obviously due to His intercession that the call came at the time that it did; so, once again, I can say He came JUST IN TIME to save my life.

            Things began to improve after Atwell visited the doctor. He says that at that point he began to be more interested in learning what Jesus Christ and His Church were really all about. He was certain that the Lord was looking out for him, and he began to meditate on how he could gain a deeper relationship with Him. Atwell began to think that perhaps the Lord wanted him to do some special work; so, he began to study the Bible in a group session at church and alone at home. He could not get enough of God's Word. He said, "No matter what passages I read, Mathew 25:36 kept coming into my mind: 'Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.' I would meditate on that scripture day and night, because I could not understand what it was supposed to mean. No one in my family and none of my friends had ever been to prison or had ever been in trouble; so, there was no way I could relate to what was being said in this passage. I had always pointed fingers at people who got into trouble with drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. I thought they were destroying their bodies. I had no mercy for them. But now I was left with this one big question in my mind that I couldn't find an answer for." So, I changed churches and went on the walk to Emmaus in April 1996.

            Certain groups at church became interested in prison ministry and encouraged Atwell to go with them to Central Prison to learn more about the ministry that was being conducted there. Pursuing this goal opened other doors to him, and his interest grew until one night, after having sat through a series of workshops all day long, he was walking through the woods toward his dormitory when a light shone from heaven directly upon him, and a voice spoke softly, saying: "Son, I want you to do prison ministry for me." From that night on, after accepting the calling, God began opening doors for Atwell. He gave his life to the Lord and was eventually ordained for the ministry.

            God also put Minister Tommy Dean, Jr., Director of the New Life Prison Ministry, into Atwell's path so that he could be trained for what would be coming next. Brother Dean introduced him to greater ministries and deeper Bible studies that would leave him more knowledgeable and more prepared. After the death of Minister Tommy Dean, Jr., the board members voted Minister Atwell Barry Brookshire, Sr., would take over his position and become director of New Life Prison Ministry, Inc.

            Today, Chaplain Atwell Barry Brookshire, Jr., has already served 12 years in prison ministry and looks forward to many more years of service. He says, "I no longer judge man, because the Holy Spirit has given me a keener sense of how to listen to the inner pain of the inmates; therefore, I now have become a better person and servant. I believe that, while programs help; only the Good Lord can bring deliverance. He delivered me. He came into my life JUST IN TIME to put me on the right track. I have also been a volunteer with the Sheriff's Office for 11 years and look forward to many more years to come.

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Chaplain Atwell Brookshire

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