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Prison Ministry In These Times

Enjoying my home and garden on these beautiful summer days, almost basking in the coronavirus need to stay home, I find that it is possible to remove myself from the troubles of our country.  I am shocked at that!  Especially considering the work that I do, I wonder how this can be.  As I ponder the problem, I realize that the great issues we face can tire us, frighten us, discourage us.  And I ask myself the difficult question, “Am I racist?”
Racism.  The word conjures images of torches, lynching, terror.  Well, I certainly am not that!  But as the bishops of the United States point out in “Open Wide Our Hearts,” (see below) there are varying degrees of racism.  They go on to say that that it can be found in our hearts, “placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture.”  Considering this, I must face the notion that, yes, perhaps that level of racism exists in me.      
How then do I move forward, particularly in my work?  What is the role of the Catholic in these times and how do the issues of today apply to prison ministry?  The bishops ask us to consider the reality of systemic racism, saying that it still “profoundly affects our culture.”  One aspect of that effect is the present reality of mass incarceration.  In her book “Redeeming a Prison Society” (see below) Amy Levad explains that one out of every three African-American men can expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime.  She goes on to say that “deaths in encounters with police are the proverbial tip of the iceberg of issues in our criminal justice systems that are inflected with social injustice.”  The Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (see below) states that “Any engagement with the reality of incarceration in the United States must involve engagement with the reality of racial injustice.”
One way of moving forward is to acknowledge that prison ministry can begin in the community.  It is in the community that we can discover the circumstances that lead to criminal behavior.  And one way of bringing about healing from that behavior is the practice of restorative justice.  Levad advocates for this approach, saying that “in this way all community members take responsibility for the social reintegration and internal reform of wrongdoers by offering guidance and support.”  
The bishops of the United States also advocate for restorative justice in their statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration.” (See below.)  This slim booklet (online version available) offers comprehensive background and suggestions for action which address overall issues of criminal justice in our country as well as the connection between racism and incarceration.  Resources for learning about and practicing restorative justice can be found on The Catholic Mobilizing Network website. (See below.)
In his Chapel Chat of July 24 Archbishop Sample urges us to pray, and yes, to act.  Let us act in a way that reflects Jesus’ teaching that we are all brothers and sisters and children of the Father (Mt23:8-9).  The bishops tell us that evangelization means “not only entry into the community, but the building up of the community.”  Thus prison ministry can begin in the community by addressing the forces that lead to crime and prison.  A Catholic vision of prison ministry seeks to further the Kingdom by building our communities of faith, compassion and equity so that every one of our brothers and sisters lives an everyday life of dignity, free from the pressures of poverty, fear and marginalization which drive people to crime.  The realization of this vision is the fruit of restorative justice, a justice which not only heals the wounds of a specific crime, but which leads us to “original justice” – right relationship with God, ourselves and one another.  It is God’s justice, and as the great Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann offers, “God’s restoration is …toward a new historical possibility through the giving of new gifts.  This God has the capacity to restore, recover, and revivify!  Let us all find our part of this revitalizing, this restoration!
                                                                                             Linda Showman
                                                                                             July 29, 2020
Open Wide Our Hearts
Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice
Catholic Mobilizing Network
Catholic Prison Ministry Coalition
Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Punishment.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2000. 
Levad, Amy.  Redeeming a Prison Society:  A Liturgical & Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration.  Fortress, 2014.


The Prison Ministry Conference for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon was to have been held on June 20, 2020.  The 2019 conference was designed to be inspirational.  The 2020 conference was being designed to be instructional and formational.  Dr. Harry Dudley was to have been the featured speaker.   

For some time the Office of Prison Ministry had been working on developing a training and formation program for ministry to the incarcerated.  This program was guided in no small part by the work being done by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition in creating a charting of competencies and a formation program for both volunteers and professional chaplains in prison ministry. 

The purpose for the archdiocesan program is twofold.  In the first place, we have a dedicated cadre of committed volunteers who have been volunteering in the prisons, jails and youth correctional facilities.  This programs was meant to support and sustain the good folks both spiritually and furthering of skills.

The other aim is to give grounding and support to those who may be exploring and discerning the idea of prison ministry.  It is hoped that having information and skills beyond what the facilities provide would bolster the confidence of those new to this ministry, and especially guide them in being Catholic volunteers in a variety of aspects and approaches.  Please stay tuned for information regarding the rescheduling of the conference.  

The CPMC is offering a webinar on August 6, 2020 on pilot programs that have been conducted based on their work with the NACC.  Dr. Dudley and his colleague Dr. David Lichter will be the presenters.  (See below for more information.)  
If link in poster does not work, click here:
The Office of Prison Ministry of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon now has a listing with the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition.  Click here:
During this time of coronavirus restrictions, please consider becoming a pen pal to an adult in custody.  There are many men and women waiting for a match.

For more information:
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