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A volunteer assists Fugitive Safe Surrender participants and their accompanying friends and family navigate the program on Sept. 19, 2015 at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Religion News Service photo by Heidi Hall

The first people that fugitives encountered when they surrendered themselves on a humid September weekend weren’t cops, judges, marshals or anyone else associated with the criminal justice system.

They were met by a phalanx of smiling, middle-aged church ladies, their vivid blue Galilee Missionary Baptist T-shirts unmistakable under the bright skies, smiling and holding open the door. Two other church volunteers collected belts and keys and sent the visitors through a metal detector.

And then they met Veda Gooch, a Galilee member standing on the other side, quick with a guiding touch on the arm or even a hug if they needed it.

“Y’all here to sign up?” she asked quietly.

Their relief was palpable as they finally faced outstanding warrants that, had they been stopped for so much as an expired license plate on the way there, would have landed them in jail.

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Churches Host Fugitive Safe Surrender Events, Resulting In Thousands of Cleared Warrants  was originally published on