6 12 2008

Does anyone have any insight as to what it is like to participate in Prison Ministry or has anyone done their CPE in a prison? Or can anyone point me in the right direction of someone to talk to?

Enquiring Reverend boys want to know ….



8 responses

6 12 2008

I have done a bit of work in prisons, more in a social work capacity than in ministry. Several things come to mind. 1. Expect some role ambiguity about what you do. Who are you working for? The prison expects that you work for them, and therefore try to foster institutional goals. But in ministry, we usually see ourselves as serving the parishioner or person we are dealing with. This role ambiguity is fraught with conflict. What do you do if someone tells you about something that violates the institutions rules, for example, relating to contraband, weapons, fighting, sexual activity? Who are you ultimately serving? 2. Expect violence. It is never far away. Expect to deal with the violent, and with the victims of violence, who are often the same people. Be watchful and wary and get training in some practical self-protection strategies. That might involve physical defense, but for a chaplain mostly involves common sense precautions about when, where, with whom you meet, and what words and gestures trigger aggressive responses. 3. In many ministries, you can control the environment. You can make a space inviting and conducive to what you intend to do in the ministry. You can arrange your office, decorate the church, or whatever. In prison ministry you have no control whatsoever. Prisons are loud – sound echoes off the hard surfaces – and prison furniture is at best utilitarian, at worst has been designed so that it can’t be sued as a weapon (bolted to floor, for example). There is almost no privacy, and you should be thankful for shatter-proof plastic windows in the doors of counseling rooms, etc. 4. The population of inmates is usually divided unofficially by race and ethnicity and club membership and other factors. You may be seen in terms of loyalty and disloyalty to one or more groups. Prisoners survive by cunning and manipulation. Don’t expect that they will decide that you are off limits for that.

This is, in my mind, the hardest type of ministry possible.

6 12 2008
Rick+ in Reno, NV - USA

Dear RB,

How wonderful that you are going to participate in this ministry! Although, I don’t see my calling as prison ministry, it was an important part of my formation. I don’t have the breadth of experience Sebastian has, but I will just share a few impressions with you .

I was terrified the first day; it made for a long two-hour drive to our medium security prison. When I came in sight of the guard towers, I literally had to pull over the car for a few moments and breathe. The worst part was going through all the security measures. Once inside, there were just people. I saw in some of the faces of the inmates there, dishonesty and manipulation; yet I also saw gratitude for my time and redemption for some. The image that has stayed with me are the little birds that sang on the barbed wire surrounding the yard.

Criminals were probably the class of people I least wanted to ever deal with, but I found God was present. Although not called to prison ministry, it has caused me to constantly ask myself, “So, to what other group of people am I blind?” It has changed me.

The reality is that something like 95% of the people in our prisons will one day be released back into society. The only questions are what kind of people will they be then, and how will we welcome them?

6 12 2008
Robert Thomas

well rev. boy. I served as the institutional chaplain at a state maximum security prison for 5 years, so feel free to email me if you have any questions or if you want to talk, I can always give you a call sometime.

6 12 2008

Go to this blog and leave Shannon a comment. Tell her I sent you!


6 12 2008

I hope I wasn’t too pessimistic. This is hard ministry, but so important. You might consider reading the account of a murderer who became a Franciscan friar:

7 12 2008

Dr. Bob on my course did a placement in a prison. E-mail me if you want contact details.

8 12 2008

Contact “Prism” via the Los Angeles Diocese website. Contact Dennis Gibbs, the chaplain for Prison Ministry: If you contact Dennis, tell him that you know me.

9 12 2008
Reverend boy

Thanks for all the suggestions and insights. These are really helpful.

The reason for me asking about it is because all seminarians do a certain number of hours as a chaplain, usually during their first summer break and at a hospital or a prison, and the prison is where I felt more drawn. Proclaiming “liberty to the captives” and all that.

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