From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Prison ministry dangerous but necessary, delegates told

Date Wed, 12 Jun 2002 15:44:44 -0400

June 12, 2002


Episcopalians: Prison ministry dangerous but necessary, 
delegates told

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 
violence itself."

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 
conference mascot. 

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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