Praying for prisoners

Constance Tomich shares a smile and a conversation with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis following a 2014 Mass he celebrated in the chapel at the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis June 29. Some Catholics who volunteer at prisons say their lives have been changed through their prison ministry. (CNS photo/John Shaugnessy, The Criterion)
Constance Tomich shares a smile and a conversation with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis following a 2014 Mass he celebrated in the chapel at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis June 29. Some Catholics who volunteer at prisons say their lives have been changed through their prison ministry. (CNS photo/John Shaugnessy, The Criterion)

It might sound like a hard thing to do: pray for prisoners. It isn’t.

Inmates who live in jail for any amount of time are people just like you and me. They’re sinners. They made mistakes just like you and I do on a daily basis. Granted, their mistakes are likely of a far more grave nature, but they’re mistakes — sins — nonetheless.

Those sins separate us from God just the same. We’re all granted the opportunity for forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation too. Sure, some may fall into temptation upon release and mess up again, but don’t we all?

Their sins may just be venial sins, not grave sins the next time around.

I’ve discovered that after encountering more inmates and family of inmates than I ever thought I might in my lifetime:

  • Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago celebrates Mass with detainees at a Cook County medium-security facility in Chicago Dec. 25. The cardinal also made a stop at Children's Memorial Hospital to visit with children who are hospitalized and could not be home for Christmas and their families. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
    Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago celebrates Mass with detainees at a Cook County medium-security facility in Chicago Dec. 25. The cardinal also made a stop at Children’s Memorial Hospital to visit with children who are hospitalized and could not be home for Christmas and their families. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

    One of them I grew to know real well. The friendship, ironically, took root in the days surrounding a temporary jail stay for probation revocation.

  • If memory serves me right, another was a core team leader for a parish youth group before the coin was termed. That man went on to marry and hold positions within the church. I have bumped into him and his family at Thanksgiving Masses in recent years.
  • I met a few incarcerated youth for a story that never materialized. I was fortunate enough to sit in on their art class taught by a local Catholic volunteer.
  • I have encountered children whose parents are in jail.
  • Some percentage of women who stay at Maggie’s Place and clients using St. Joseph the Worker resources to secure employment — including some I have interviewed — have served time in jail.
  • I have virtually met a series of inmates, such as these women, via local and newswire stories on our website. I often find myself gripped with their stories of conversion and hope.

 

Praying for those in prison is something I do during night prayer. I’m not sure how it started, but I pray for them. This month, Pope Francis is drawing special attention to them via his universal prayer intention:

That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.

Fortunately, we have dedicated people in the Diocese of Phoenix helping facilitate that.

  • We have a diocesan Office of Prison Ministries headed by this man. He has an Army of volunteers who visit inmates, lead Bible studies and are old-fashioned penpals.
  • We have a local Catholic couple who treks from Mesa to north Phoenix every Thursday to visit youth in the juvenile detention center. They also visit on Christmas Day. The husband estimated that half of the 400 boys there don’t get visitors that day.
    The couple teaches from parables and other parts of Scripture guiding the boys toward the ideas of hope, peace and forgiveness. The husband encourages the boys to create five-year and 25-year plans.
  • We have St. Joseph the Worker, which brings its Mobile Success Unit stocked with job leads, tools, resume writers and hiring coaches to jails and for meetups with those on probation. The efforts have bore much fruit. The executive director of Paz de Cristo mentioned in this video that one of the agency’s guests came to the soup kitchen after 16 years in jail. After getting job leads and interview clothes and pounding the pavement for three weeks, he landed two full-time job offers.

Please remember to at least occasionally keep those in jail — and perhaps even those they left behind – in your prayers. They could certainly benefit from them. And our local Catholic outreaches show quite often that ex-inmates are capable of reform. Isn’t that what this season of Lent is about?

MARCH 9 UPDATE

Here is one inmate who is ready to change for the better. Surprisingly, his family is trying to discourage him.

Jailhouse phone calls from an accused murderer