The Way Out History

Esley Patsch forms Summit Chaplain Services

In 1977, Esley Patsch, our founder, was hired as Corrections Coordinator in the old Summit County Jail in Akron, Ohio. While in this position, Esley and other concerned pastors and community leaders formed Summit Chaplain Services, the parent organization of The Way Out Prison Ministry.

With the success of the ministry in Summit County, Esley met with the Stark County Sheriff and received permission to start a similar ministry in the Stark County Jail.

In 1982 Esley resigned his position at the jail and stepped out in faith as the director of Summit Chaplain Services and as full time Chaplain at Summit County Jail. This began our tradition as a faith ministry as he had to raise his support from churches and friends who recognized the value of this ministry not only to the souls of the inmates, but as a benefit to the community at large.

The Way Out Begins

The name “The Way Out” came into use in 1986, first as a newsletter, then as a legal name under Summit Chaplain Services.

One of the early goals of the ministry was to replicate itself in other counties. Similar ministries were started in Trumbull, Columbiana, Medina, and Portage Counties. Some of these continue to this day, operating independently of The Way Out.

Early in the 1990s, God called Esley to found Summit Missions International to provide material and spiritual aid to churches in eastern Europe. As Esley’s focus shifted to this new ministry, Dennis Knable came on board to lead the The Way Out’s ministry in Portage County. Harry Watson retired early from his job and took up the work at Summit County Jail. By 1994, Esley was able to resign as Executive Director to devote his full attention to Summit Missions International.

While Esley remained on the Board of Trustees, Dennis Knable was appointed Executive Director. Dennis served very effectively in this position until about 2000. It was also during this time that Ray Coblentz took the responsibility of full time chaplain at Stark County.

True North Becomes an Offshoot of The Way Out

In 2001, Becky Retzer came into the organization as Office Manager. As she saw the ongoing work of The Way Out, she became burdened for the juvenile aspect of the work and began volunteering in that part of the ministry. As the juvenile ministry grew, Becky was named Director and the ministry became known as True North. It soon became evident that True North would be better able to attract supporters and grants as a separate entity. So on July 1, 2008, True North established their own Board of Directors and became a separate organization.


The Way Out ministry serves eight counties in Northeastern Ohio.  Our chaplains and volunteers minister in over a dozen facilities.  Every month 150 volunteers invest over 350 hours into the lives of men, women and youth seeking hope.  Each hour represents a Bible study or a chapel service touching thousands each month with the Good News.  As God redeems the lost through Christ we pray these returning citizens attend one of the many churches with whom we partner.

As we look to the future of The Way Out ministry we thank God for His grace and continued hand of blessing, guidance and protection on the work He has called us to.