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Parishes get involved in prison ministry Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary Kay Clark, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

OREGON/STOUGHTON -- As we know the Holy Spirit works in mysterious and incredible ways — pulling together diverse people and places with various opportunities and resources to accomplish God’s will.

A case in point includes this very newspaper with an article that was published approximately two years ago. The story unfolds below with the culmination being the launching of an ecumenical Prison Ministry to serve inmates at Oakhill Correctional Institute (OCI), located outside of Oregon, and their families.  This ministry is the joint effort of cluster parishes Holy Mother of Consolation in Oregon, and St. Ann  in Stoughton.

Inmate participates in class
 
 How to get involved

To learn more about the prison ministry program, attend an informational/educational program by Sarah Quinn with the Community Connections program at Holy Mother of Consolation Parish, Oregon, on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m.

For more information about prison ministry and/or to sign up for the information session, contact Kathy Davis at 608-291-0079 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Mary Kay Clark at 608-575-2344 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

  

Holy Mother of Consolation (HMC) parish published an article in the Catholic Herald about a year and a half ago announcing the start of a 30-week Social Justice class called Just Faith.  An inmate at Racine Correctional Institute in Sturdevant, Wis., saw the article and wrote to the parish asking if he could participate in the class. 

Thus began a remarkable journey for members of two Just Faith classes, two parishes including the kids at various grade levels, their communities, and inmates around the country. 

The Just Faith group agreed for this man to be part of the class, albeit remotely, and several of the participants began corresponding with him. Through his letters, the Just Faith class became aware of the many injustices in our criminal justice system.

He sent newspaper clippings and suggested readings from government documents as well as books for the group to read. Gradually the members of the class became determined to make a difference in the lives of inmates. 

Restorative Justice program

The first step was to invite, at his suggestion, the Rev. Jerry Hancock to speak and explain his perspective on the current criminal justice system and the Restorative Justice program.  After three decades in law enforcement, Hancock has turned his focus to prison ministry. 

Following his presentation, class members made plans to attend a Restorative Justice Graduation. That graduation took place with a ceremony and reception for inmates at the Columbia Correctional Institute (CCI) in Portage.  

Just Faith class members came back in awe at what they had witnessed. As Rev. Jerry Hancock states “You can’t go inside the walls and see and hear what we do and remain silent.”

Restorative justice programs at CCI are an intensive 12-week program where approximately 20 inmates at a time, who are looking for positive change in their lives, meet and converse with victims to understand the harm that has been caused.  These sessions end in tears and forgiveness; healing takes place and lives are transformed. To learn more about the program visit RestorativeJustice.org 

Since attending their first graduation, many parishioners from HMC, St. Ann’s, St. John’s Lutheran, and other members of the Oregon community have returned for other graduations.

Church of the Second Chance

As interest increased, with great support from Pastor Fr. Bill Connell and Sr. Mary Frost, Holy Mother of Consolation offered a six-week class on Criminal Justice Reform, called “Church of the Second Chance,” last summer. Members from HMC, St. Ann’s, and St. John’s Lutheran took an in-depth look into the world of prisons, sentencing, and prisoner reentry.

Several participated in Prisoner Reentry Simulation training through Madison Urban Ministry (MUM). In this simulation, the participants walk in the shoes of a person who has just been released from prison in order to understand the barriers they face upon re-entry. Since the training, several parishioners and community members now assist as facilitators for the simulations which take place at Oakhill with actual prisoners who are close to release.

Angel Tree project

The next project was a joint effort between HMC and St. Ann’s called the Angel Tree project.  Angel Tree is a national program serving the children of prisoners.  Statistics show that a child of an incarcerated parent is seven times more likely to be incarcerated as an adult than children whose parents are never in prison. 

St. Ann’s had already participated in the Christmas Angel Tree project for many years so HMC joined them in this effort. An incarcerated parent (male or female) can request that Christmas gifts be given in their name to their children. The names of children whose parent is incarcerated are sent to the parish. The custodial parent or guardian is then contacted, ideas for gifts are exchanged, and arrangements are made for delivery.

At HMC, the Confirmation class took on the project which included putting up a Christmas tree with the Angel ornaments, buying the gifts for the ornament selected, and then delivering the gifts to the children with either their parent or Confirmation sponsor. They also followed up with Christmas cards to the incarcerated parent offering prayers and blessings.

Redemption of former inmate

Recently Ginny and Bob Joyes from St. Ann’s in Stoughton gave talks during Mass at both HMC and St. Ann’s describing their personal experience with redemption of a formerly incarcerated person who is very close to them. This experience was transformational for the former inmate, and, I think they would tell you, it was transformational for them as well. 

Theirs is a wonderful story of salvation, after many years of highs and lows, which culminated with their loved one being brought into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at Church of the Little Flower in Springfield, Ill., on April 12. 

Through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, almost immediately upon his release from prison, this wonderful child of God became involved in the RCIA program at Church of the Little Flower in Springfield, Ill.

Flaws in prison system

Ginny and Bob Joyes’ personal experience with a former foster child who has been imprisoned most of his adult life brought home to all present the reality of the flaws in our current prison system. It made the congregations aware that 76 percent of those in state prisons were convicted of a non-violent crime. And that evidence suggests that at least 80 percent of prisoners have problems with drug and alcohol, requiring treatment instead of prison. 

Wisconsin incarcerates three times more people than Minnesota — at an average of $33,000 per inmate per year —and keeps them locked up for longer periods.  Because so much is spent on incarceration, little is left for drug and alcohol treatment, meaning that many offenders will be recidivists.  Because of these statistics, more and more of us will know families affected by incarceration. 

Bob and Ginny’s talk hit home to many people and especially the impact that support from local churches can have on our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been marginalized and/or victimized for myriad reasons.

Launch prison ministry

Their talks served to launch the ecumenical prison ministry at Oakhill for HMC, St. Ann’s, and the Oregon community.

Approximately 700 men are incarcerated at Oakhill at any given time. Most will be released back into their communities within seven months. Many of their families live within the Madison Diocese.

The ministry will be partnering with an existing program, Community Connections, under the direction of Sarah Quinn.  She will present an informational/educational program at Holy Mother of Consolation on Wednesday, April 29, at 7 p.m.  Everyone is invited to attend. 

She will explain volunteer opportunities in the Family Visiting Area, for which during Lent HMC sixth graders collected games, toys, and craft supplies, and The Family Center at Oakhill. 

If you are interested in finding out more about this ministry and/or signing up for the information session, see the box with this article for contact persons.

 

 
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