|Rock Church of Easton|
I'm referring to Chris Santos, appointed to the job in late 2010. Even the way he is paid should raise a few eyebrows. Instead of being paid directly, $1,000 per month goes to his church, the Rock Church of Easton. This way, he gets paid tax free and the County is spared those pesky little benefits.
Praise the Lord!
But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Santos is using his gig as prison padre to make some real dough. You see, he (and his church) own a string of run-down row homes on both Northampton and N. 6th Streets. He fills those buildings with tenants from among the prison's population. About 20 tenants, all supplied by the jail, pay Santos between $300 and $400 per month rent for an unlocked room in a dilapidated building. Inmates he attracts as tenants must worship at his, and only his, church. Every frickin' day. Three times on Sunday.
Despite this steady stream of revenue from the jail, Santos is still behind on the bills. Church Redevelopment Corp., which owns 8 of these buildings on N. 6th Street, owes a whopping $51,461.50 in back taxes, going back to 2009. There's also $10,269.20 in municipal liens filed against Church Redevelopment and Rock Church itself.
My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?
|501, 505 Northampton Street|
Rock Church has never fared well with Easton officialdom. In 1993, a proposed pregnancy crisis center was rejected. And in 1994, a "Christian Academy" was closed down for multiple code violations, including the use of a classroom as a means of egress.
Oh Ye of little faith!
However poorly it fares with Easton, it's doing just fine with inmates at Northampton County jail. So David, a Vet and a three-time DUI offender, thought it might work for him. "I pretty much would have signed a deal with the Devil to get out of [jail] and get my life back together," he told me. After all, Chris Santos always had a "kind word and a good ear." But after being released on bench parole to Santos, David soon learned that Santos is "all business across the street."
For $300 a month, unemployed David was installed in an unlocked room in a hovel on Northampton Street. Trash is strewn all through the place. Common bathrooms are filthy. Calling the place "horrible," David tells me that even the health department would be afraid to step inside.
Most cities have rules about the number of unrelated people who can live together in what is essentially a boarding house, even when God is in charge.
Officials at the probation office tell me they will confirm that an address provided by an inmate actually exists, and that the owner is agreeable. But they do not spend much time determining whether the facility is habitable, considering themselves lucky to have a place when housing resources are very limited.
"It's tough out there," the probation office told me.
As bad as the physical conditions may be, David is even more upset at the indoctrination. "Until you suffer for Jesus, you got nothing to offer us," he is repeatedly told. After that, they hug him and say "We love you, man."
There's a bible study twice every day, morning and evening. On Sundays, it's three times. If you work, you get to tithe 10% of your income to Rock Church. This is in addition to your $300-400 monthly rent. "Every time you sit down in a church-related situation, you're getting your wallet out," complains David.
Calling the place an "emotional jail," David tells me he felt trapped. He's allowed to attend one AA meeting per week, even though alkies like me know that you need to go every day in the beginning. He's also been denied permission to attend services at another church.
The hammer is a parole violation. Santos threatens his tenants by telling them he'll talk to their parole officers, who will "violate" them. "He can take the carpet out from under your feet any time he wants," warns David.
What does Chris Santos have to say about these allegations? I contacted him early last week. He asked me to wait six months before publishing anything, assuring me that his accusers would have a change of heart. Later that night, his entire Bible Study was devoted to me and to discovering who had blown the whistle. He threatened that if the City begins looking at his operations, they could all end up on the street.
After a few nights of this brow beating, one worried inmate fessed up, and dimed out David. Fortunately, David has received permission from his probation officer to move into Bethlehem's Victory House and away from Santos.
Santos tells me he has a B.S. in Theology, having attended Christ for the Nations, located in Dallas, and Valley Forge Christian College, located in Phoenixville. Christ for the Nations is unaccredited, and at the time Santos went there, had no degree program. Valley Forge is accredited, and does offer a Bachelor's degree in Theological Studies.
Asked about his program, Santos told me there are a lot of religious organizations who help people "get on their feet with spiritually significant support." He acknowledged that he does require his tenants to attend his church, unless there's an understanding with another Pastor.
"There must be accountability," he tells me, denying that "it is a cultish issue." But inmate David, who wanted to attend another church, was flatly told No. He was never given the option of contacting their Pastor.
Are housing conditions that bad? "We don't have roaches. We don't have mice," brags Santos, who insists you can buy a lock for your door. This was disputed by David. I asked Santos to let me look at the properties myself, but he never answered me.
$300 to $400 a month for a room? According to Santos, those rentals "keep the bills paid," although he has no explanation for the unpaid taxes and municipal liens. He tells me, "We train those men to stand on their own two feet," adding that he helps them look for jobs.
This was flatly denied by David. "You're on your own," he tells me.
Santos tells me he has a Blue Book, called a Benevolence Book, to provide food, clothing and rental payments for inmates who are unable to pay. David, who is unemployed, told me he never heard of it. He added that state food assistance programs are available for those with limited or no income.
Last week, David was pulled out of a bible study to talk to Santos. "If the City of Easton comes down on the Rock Church, it will be you guys who suffer," warned the preacher.
I think he's already suffering, "Reverend," and it's gone on long enough.
According to another minister familiar with Northampton County's program, "The County needs to establish sound criteria for this position such as legitimate ordination, Master's degree, and clinical training. But that would cost them about $70,000/year. Many counties, like Monroe, have set up a coalition of churches that raise funds to support a jail chaplain."
He warns against hiring a low bidder through an agency like Good News Ministries or Yokefellow. "These are basically untrained fundamentalists who purge other opinions and theologies from the volunteer corps."
Personally, I think the jail should hire a rabbi. The most Christian people I know tend to be Jews.