From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Prison ministry dangerous but necessary, delegates told
Wed, 12 Jun 2002 15:44:44 -0400
June 12, 2002
Episcopalians: Prison ministry dangerous but necessary,
by Val Hymes
(ENS) "Prison ministry is a very dangerous profession,"
psychotherapist Dr. Margaret Kornfeld told the Seventh National
Prison Ministry Conference, meeting June 6-9 at Christ Church
Cathedral in Indianapolis. "Working in a toxic environment is
Serving as the conference chaplain, Kornfeld, the author of
"Cultivating Wholeness" and president of the American Pastoral
Counseling Association, declared that "the prison system is
reinforcing violence in this country and is part of the violence
itself. Until we establish a network of care to enter those
walls, we have no chance of breaking the system."
The delegates attending the conference were warned about
"burning out" and becoming ineffective ministers. They were
urged to connect with others and themselves, to lead a balanced
life and to deal with addictions that often include "busyness."
Others attacked the "criminal injustice system" and warned that
the system not only is "reinforcing violence, but is part of
Restorative justice that involves the victim, the offender
and the community, said author Harmon Wray, consultant to the
Episcopal Church and other denominations, is the only way to
change a "retributive" system designed to punish the offender
and deprive victims of restitution and reconciliation.
"Prosecutors consider you a bad victim if you don't want
revenge," he said.
When mental hospitals were closed, said chaplain Willie
Crespo of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, "we stopped
rehabilitating and shuffled people with mental diseases into
prisons." Crespo uses a "rolling altar" to reach the floors of
the 10-story high-rise Metropolitan Correctional Center in San
Diego, California. He makes a quick-change transformation of the
small chapel for the Muslim and Jewish services with icons and
art. But he could not do it all without volunteer chaplain and
lay ministers. "They are invaluable," he said.
Presiding bishop to visit Death Row
The Rev. Jackie Means, director of prison ministry at the
Episcopal Church Center, told the group that Presiding Bishop
Frank T. Griswold plans to visit a death row next year. He has
been given five sites to work into his schedule.
"We must get the bishops--the leaders--to lead, so the
followers can follow," Means said. "We must get the top and the
grassroots to work together. I don't understand the silence. The
silence is killing people."
Means said she hopes to hear from bishops when someone is
about to be executed, or when there is debate about mandatory
minimum sentences, the privatization of prisons or a death
penalty moratorium. "Why don't editors of diocesan publications
question them?" she asked.
How to lobby Congress
An analyst for the church's Government Relations Office in
Washington, D.C. warned that members of Congress rarely read
e-mail or form letters and that petitions are ineffective.
"The best way to get their attention," said John B. Johnson
IV, "is to fax a hand-written or typed letter, because postal
mail is delayed for months by the anthrax scare."
He urged support for upcoming legislation such as S.191,
which would abolish the death penalty; S. 233, which proposes a
death penalty moratorium, and S. 486/H.R. 912, the Innocence
Protection Act, which deals with inmates' rights to DNA testing
and other protections against wrongful convictions. "You have an
enormous amount of credibility with the leadership," he told the
delegates. "Use it."
Prison programs attract inmates
Those attending the meeting also heard about the various
Kairos programs at an Ohio prison, which have reduced
recidivism, "hostility and tension" and have led inmates to send
resumes to the warden begging to be transferred there.
"Kairos has literally transformed the culture in the
institution," said Christine Money, warden of the Marion, Ohio,
Men's Correctional Facility. She has introduced dozens of new
programs. One, Kairos Horizon Communities, builds year-long
interfaith communities and leaders inside the facility.
Community, state, and federal officials and volunteers bring in
programs including anger management, family relations, computer
skills and mentoring.
Kairos Outside, for women relatives of inmates, and Kairos
Torch, for youthful offenders, are also changing the
institution, Money said. Other programs include Godparents,
which brings in one-on-one weekly visitors; Promise Keepers, a
spiritual renewal program for men; Passage, a youth mentoring
system; a Silent Choir of 50 men who sign with music; Ministry
of Theatre; a Prisoner to Prisoner daily devotional written by
inmates for inmates; parenting programs for fathers to read and
record books for their children; the Prison News Network, with
20 television shows a week produced by inmates; and the Lifeline
program for computer literacy.
"We create an environment where people can step up and grow,"
said Money. "God is welcome."
Among those attending the meeting were the Rev. Douglas
Jerome, who teaches Education for Ministry (EFM) inside a
prison, and his seeing eye dog, Brogan, who quickly became the
Another delegate, the Rev. Nadeem Sadiq, is chaplain in a
Pakistani prison that holds 3,000 inmates. Only 100 are
Christians. Sadiq was shot in the leg by the Taliban before he
brought his family to this country. He said plans to return to
his home despite threats that he will be accused of trying to
convert Muslims by giving them a small piece of soap or
--Val Hymes is coordinator of the Prison Ministry Task Force in
the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
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