Hospitallers, Area Chairs, and other Area Leaders recently attended a Zoom meeting presented by the American Association Prison Ministry Committee. Committee members, all of whom are deeply involved in their areas’ ministries, described how they have experienced God’s presence and how the ministry has moved the hearts of those being served. Here are a few highlights.
Fay Connors: FISH Support Group, St. Paul, Minnesota
FISH, Families and Friends of the Incarcerated Support and Hope group, provides a sacred space for families and friends of those in prison. The group meets monthly to read books and hear speakers. “Being family of an incarcerated has so many negative ramifications: shame, alienation, stigma, no one to talk to,” Fay said. She highlighted how the book “Boundaries” by Henry Clad and John Towns helped participants set their own boundaries as the formerly incarcerated returned home. Fay also works with Greater Twin Cities REC, which stands for Residents Encounter Christ. Based on the Paschal Mysteries, this retreat allows the inmate to experience the message of Jesus Christ through participation in music, discussion, talks, prayer, scripture, liturgy and celebration.
Steve Hawkins: Prison Ministry Pen Pal Program, Minnesota Area and American Association
Steve coordinates the Minnesota Pen Pal Program and developed and coordinates the program for all of the American Association. Steve said that during COVID Pen Pals became a critical link for insiders to have some connection with the outside world. He shared a letter from one inmate, Calvin, who wrote: “You’ve made my time in this place more bearable with your kind words and your inspirational words from above.” Steve encouraged the participants on the Zoom call to consider taking part in the program. “It only takes a couple minutes each month to make a difference in the life of an insider,” he said. “Through the Pen Pal program, all of us are able to do that.”
Pat Hofmeister: Women in Transition, St. Louis, Mo
The Let’s Start Program focuses on women transitioning into society after incarceration. While in-person participation was suspended during COVID, much still took place over Zoom. Programming includes meeting weekly with 40-50 women addressing alcohol and addiction issues as well as working with members of the Order to provide a meal monthly. Other services include non-criminal legal advice, counseling for children, day care, tutors and transportation to the prison for children and caregivers. Pat relayed a story of giving a woman something as simple as a bar of soap and how the woman cried. “You don’t even know me, but you’re trying to help me,” Pat said, “To me, that was the Holy Spirit working in me to show that this is indeed something I should be doing.”
Mary Jo Kriz: Spiritual Direction in Women’s Prison, Framingham, Massachusetts
Mary Jo Kriz volunteers with the Catholic chaplaincy at women’s prisons MCI Framingham and South Middlesex Correctional Facility in Framingham. When not prevented by COVID restrictions she meets with the women one-on-one for an hour each week. “When we first meet, I explain to them that I am there because they have expressed an interest in knowing more about God,” she said. “I tell them that we will explore together where they see God in their lives.” She also said, “This ministry cannot help but change everyone’s hearts, mine and theirs and everybody that goes in there. I certainly get more from the women than I could ever give.”
Bob Nephew: Men’s Rosary Prayer Group, Concord, Massachusetts
The Men’s Rosary Prayer Group meets weekly in the chapel at MCI Concord. The gathering begins with catching-up then moves on to praying the rosary. Bob said the process is collaborative as the men pick the mystery and take turns leading the different decades. The inmate leading the decade states his intentions at the beginning, which Bob said week after week deepens the relationship between the inmates and the volunteers. “You know what’s going on with them, with their families, with their friends and vice versa.” Bob said the ongoing relationship helps both the inmates and volunteers develop a deeper understanding of faith in a very personal way.
Paul Young: Dismas Home of New Hampshire, Women in Transition, Manchester, New Hampshire
Dismas Home of New Hampshire provides safe shelter and other programs for women in transition. “Most of these women have been sexually abused as children, and so they have tremendous trauma in their life,” said Paul Young, who chairs the Dismas Home Board. The program also provides intensive daily therapy, equine therapy, job training, life-skill training and help finding permanent housing. Paul said the women are very appreciative of the support and that it transforms their lives. “For many of them, it’s the first time anybody’s ever shown them any type of love in their life. Real love, the love of God.” He encouraged participants to get involved. “If you dip your toe into this ministry, you will never feel closer to God.”