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The History of St. Dysmas of South Dakota

Efforts to organize St. Dysmas of South Dakota congregation began in Spring 1988. Rev. Ed Nesselhuf, who spent three years as the founding pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) first "congregation behind bars" in Jessup, Maryland, came to South Dakota in 1987 as pastor of the University of South Dakota's Lutheran Center in Vermillion and assisted with establishing the same model in South Dakota.

Penitentiary officials were receptive to the idea and Warden at that time, Herman Solem, took part in the first meeting regarding St. Dysmas of South Dakota in November 1988 at Grace Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. More than 50 people who attended the meeting expressed enough interest to create a New Ministry Profile. This document served as a guideline for the ELCA Division for Outreach in approving the creation of this unique ministry. Throughout 1989 groundwork was laid and the ministry received final approval from the Department of Corrections in Fall 1989.

That same year, the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA began the process of searching for a developing pastor and forming a steering committee made up of members of the inmate population. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit and with much prayer and discussion, the process led to calling Pastor Leroy Iseminger to start the congregation within the walls of the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP). He served the congregation up to October 1999, remaining as interim pastor until April 2000.

On Ascension Day, May 24, 1990, the first worship service was held at the Sioux Falls SDSP. On April 22, 1991, members of the prison congregation selected the name St. Dysmas of South Dakota. It was chosen because Dysmas is believed to be the name of the thief who, as he hung on the cross beside Jesus, asked to be remembered. It was hoped that, when people heard the name, they would remember those in prison who often feel forgotten and abandoned.

St. Dysmas of South Dakota expanded to Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield , SD, when men, who had attended worship at SDSP in Sioux Falls, were transferred and requested continued ministry. To meet the need, Pastor Robert Hansen began Bible study in the summer of 1992 and worship was started on November 19.  

South Dakota State Penitentiary is located in northern Sioux Falls, occupying approximately thirty acres. First constructed as a territorial prison in 1881, it became the South Dakota State Penitentiary when South Dakota was granted statehood in 1889. Though a large portion of the original buildings remain, numerous structural changes have occurred over the years. 

The main Penitentiary facility contains three housing units. The G. Norton Jameson Annex opened in February 1993. The Jameson Annex contains three housing units within a secure perimeter and a minimum security unit known as Unit C, which is located outside the perimeter fence. Inmate employment within the Penitentiary falls into two basic categories; institutional support and prison industries. Institutional support includes those employed in food service, as clerks for various departments, as cell orderlies and those working in maintenance. Prison Industries consists of upholstery, printing, sign, decal, license plates, carpentry, book bindery, machine shop, Braille unit, garments and data entry. All but the garment and data entry work is done at the Penitentiary. Most of the work is done for government agencies. Inmates are offered literacy, Adult Basic Education and GED classes.

Mike Durfee State Prison is located on the campus of the former University of South Dakota at Springfield. The 1984 legislature closed the college and authorized the establishment of a correctional facility. 

Springfield State Prison opened in December 1984 and from 1985 to 1997 was a coed facility. Since completion of a Women's Prison facility in Pierre, MDSP houses only male inmates. 

On September 10, 1999, the prison was renamed in honor of Mike Durfee, a former instructor at USD/Springfield who later served as deputy Director of the South Dakota Department of Corrections. 

A building project at MDSP in 2005, resulted in additional men being transferred there making it the largest prison facility in the state.


Phone: (605) 338-1735
FAX: (605) 336-8660

St. Dysmas Lutheran
C/O East Side Lutheran
1300 E. 10th St.
Sioux Falls, SD 57103 (map)