The Prison Ministry Committee for the American Association recently held a panel discussion via ZOOM with the Illinois Area leadership to provide information on getting started in prison ministry. The Area’s Co-Chairs are Kathleen and Keith Cardoza. Kathleen and the Area’s Hospitaller, David Dempsey, hosted the meeting.
As Chair of the American Association Prison Ministry Committee, Craig Gibson laid out the agenda. “Tonight’s presentations will focus on a range of different prison ministry activities with a thought towards planting seeds so that one or more of these might at some point take root in Chicago,” he said.
Presenters provided information on a variety of programs, including re-entry programs that include therapy as well as life skills, spiritual direction in women’s prisons and activities within prison or jail walls like a Rosary Prayer Group.
Kathleen thanked the panelists for their presentations and said she looked forward to sharing the information with the Illinois members. “It’s very, very meaningful, I think more meaningful than you know,” she said. She asked the panelists how they took their first steps in prison ministry. Responses ranged from attending Mass inside the walls to helping a member of a local parish who had been incarcerated to be able to re-enter society.
But the most practical solution to getting started seemed to be participation in the Pen Pal Program, partly because some members have mobility issues and partly because there had been issues in the local prisons in the past resulting in a lack of trust in having outsiders visit. “This Pen Pal program, I think, is probably the easiest first lift to get things going and build a track record,” David said.
In addition to providing details about the nuts and bolts of prison ministry programs, the panelists offered heart-felt inspiration:
“I cannot imagine my life not knowing these women. We laugh, we cry, we pray as sisters in Christ. I don’t have to search far to answer the question, where have I seen God in the week?”Mary Jo Kriz, Spiritual Direction in Women’s Prisons
“It gives the men a deep appreciation that someone from the outside cares enough for them to dedicate time every week to come and share with them.”Bob Nephew, Men’s Rosary Prayer Group
“If you want to witness God’s great love for everyone—particularly those who are in need—and the hand of God guiding you as you go through prison ministry, there’s nothing better than getting involved.”Paul Young, Women in Transition
“I think what I would like to leave with everyone is that we need to listen to our participants. It’s not so much what we think they need, but it’s what they think they need. They’re so appreciative all the time. But I really do believe I’ve gotten more out of this than they have.”Pat Hofmeister, Women in Transition
“Pen Pals do make a difference in the lives of incarcerated men and women. The program is simple, it’s easy, and it’s secure.”Steve Hawkins, Prison Ministry Pen Pal Program