The Mission of the Office of Prison Ministry
is to bring healing and reconciliation to the incarcerated, and to the community, through God’s love and forgiveness. We hope that our ministry will influence the evolution of the corrections system towards compassion and reconciliation. We recognize that our presence is the most effective means of touching the hearts of the incarcerated and staff of the correctional facility.
We Exist to:
- Provide the spiritual and temporal services needed by the incarcerated and their families.
- Increase community understanding of the criminal justice system, of the needs of the incarcerated and their families, the needs of the victims of crime and the social teachings of the Church as they relate to criminal justice.
- Work for improvements in the criminal justice system.
The Church has always been involved in advocacy for the incarcerated and in their pastoral care. See the Statement of Catholic Bishops of the United States on Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration (A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice), December 2000. Each Diocese in the State of Florida currently has an office of Jail / Prison Ministry. Programs are developed for involvement of chaplains and volunteers in direct ministry in the facilities, to their families outside the facilities, in advocacy for issues related to the needs of the incarcerated and for educational programs related to the needs of the incarcerated.
Correctional facilities depend on volunteers! By giving of themselves, volunteers can help inmates in their desire to become productive members of society. Inmates who receive religious training in prison are far less likely to return to prison. Recidivism drops by 60% for those who receive spiritual support and education. Volunteers who know that they “are the branches and He is the vine…” can often influence inmates in ways correctional employees can’t. Left to the “culture” of the prison, inmates begin to accept the attitudes, values and behavior patterns of the more hardened inmates that they live with daily. Volunteers can help the inmate change this behavior by being positive role models. As we call upon the Lord to help us in our ministry, we learn that by allowing the Holy Spirit to work though us, the incarcerated we serve see the miracle of Faith and… the light within each of us which must shine before all so that they may see the goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father…” (Mt 5:14-16) Effective prison and jail workers need to be able to see beyond the crime to the basic value of the individual as a child of God, and believe in a person’s ability to change, while realizing that a lifetime of dysfunction does not change.
Working in an environment where freedom is restrained is challenging. Working within a system that is sometimes inflexible and with inmates who are sometimes angry at the world, can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding! The hunger for God’s Word is everywhere evident. Simply put, the work of the prison ministry volunteer is to help spread the Good News of Jesus Christ; His forgiveness and promise of salvation and above all, His love. Volunteers are in a unique position to offer, through the witness of their lives, their gifts of time, talent and service, Christ’s redeeming promise and presence among us.
One Inmate Describes Prison: Prison is a place where the first inmate you see may look like an “all American” college boy! It is a place where you write letters and can’t think of anything to say, so you gradually write less and less and then stop all together. Prison is a place of little hope. Prison is a place where the flame of life burns low. For some – it goes out – but for most, it just flickers weakly. Prison is a place where you hate, where you learn that no one needs you, that the outside world just keeps going on without you. A place where you can go for years without feeling the touch of human hands, for months without hearing a kind word. A place where friendships are shallow and you know it. A place where you forget the sound of a baby’s cry or a dog’s bark, where you strive to remain civilized but lose ground and know it. You can sell your soul for a pack of cigarettes. If you are married, prison is a place where you watch for your marriage to die. Where you learn that absence does not make the heart grow fonder and you stop blaming your wife for wanting something more than a fading memory. Prison is a place where you can have as little humanity left in you as the stones and mortar in the wall.
Compassionate Lord, in my attempt to listen to Your call, I am considering service to my incarcerated brothers and sisters by being a representative in Your Name as I go forth to visit.
Mindful of the journey of the Virgin Mary to call upon her cousin, Elizabeth, I ask that this work of mine be truly a Visitation. May You, my Lord and God, visit those I shall see.
Using me as your vessel of visitation empty my heart so that it will be filled with You.
Humble me and remove all that may prevent You, my Lord, from being the Gift that I will bring to them. May my words be honest and real so that they may be channels for Your Grace.
Through Your continuous assistance, I will strive to give my self in service, but never impose myself upon those I visit. Finally, Lord make me conscious of how it is I, who will be visited by You
as I enter into the sacred circle of sickness, loneliness and sometimes despair.
Fr. Edward M. Hays
Suggested Links: Catholics Against Capital Punishment CACP www.cacp.org
With God's blessings,
Deacon Peter Andre, Director
Heidi Sumner, Secretary
727.344.1611 x 414
The “Reaching Out” Quilt shows the outline of the hands of juveniles incarcerated at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa. Their achievements include receiving their General Education Diplomas, mentoring in subjects such as math, writing, science, reading. As part of the Diocesan Prison Ministry Success & Empowerment Program, (the brainchild of Volunteer, Elena Zerfas), juvenile involvement in S&E goes far beyond the regular educational system by providing juveniles with life skills, art work and tutoring. For many of these juveniles, this was the first time they had ever been involved with ‘reaching out’ for something positive.
Monthly Support Group Meetings for Those Whose Loved Ones Are Incarcerated
The Office of Prison Ministry offers Parents, Friends/Family of the Incarcerated an invitation to monthly Parents Support Group meetings at various locations throughout the Diocese. Moderators touch on issues including but not limited to feelings of loss and grief affiliated with this situation. Confidentiality is assured. These faith based meetings are open to persons of every denomination, but the format is Christ-centered. Everyone will be given time to speak, privacy respected for those who choose not to.
If you know of someone who would benefit, please encourage them to contact the Diocesan Office of Prison Ministry 727-344-1611 x5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.