Home/Stay Informed/All Diocesan Articles

All Diocesan Articles



Diakonia - Prison Ministry

Posted on September 08, 2022 in: Vocations

Diakonia - Prison Ministry

Prison Ministry

Having been a high school religion teacher for 18 years, I was in diaconal formation when my second high school was closed and I was jobless.

At a retreat for deacon candidates and lay ministers on Ender’s Island, I was mulling over where I would do my six-week ministry rotation. I believed that deacons needed to go where no one else would go and where the need was great.

One of the lay ministers I had met was a deputy warden at JB Gates. So I asked him about doing something at his institution.

After teaching a class called, “How to Make a Moral Decision,” he offered me a job. I took that as an answer to my prayer for a ministry job that would sustain my family. For the next 21 years, I worked full-time as the Catholic chaplain for the Department of Corrections, with men and women, in five different institutions, across all five security levels, eventually becoming the senior Catholic chaplain in the state.

My decision was further confirmed in that I discovered that my experience working with high school-aged students was the best possible preparation for prison ministry because most inmates (because of drug and alcohol use) suffered socially and emotionally from arrested development. In short, instead of starting from scratch, I knew how to minister to this population.

What is prison? It is the catch basin for all the problems that our society refuses to deal with. And 97% will have to be legally released at some point. A very small portion of inmates are what the general public assumes they are: people who have made a bad moral choice. 

Being of sound mind the punishment of incarceration will (rationally) show them the error of their ways. That is the theory prisons were designed on and it works for those people who are rational actors who have committed a moral lapse. They don’t come back.

And yet, statistics show a high rate of recidivism. The “revolving door,” in and out of prison. We on staff called it “doing life on the installment plan.” Most inmates are what we called “frequent flyers,” and you have no idea of the sinking feeling that comes from meeting a new inmate who knows you from when she was a child visiting her mother in the visiting room 15 years ago. Many inmates are victims of poverty, addiction/alcoholism (theirs or their parents), trauma, abuse, untreated mental illness, and more.

They are not moral lapses that a few years in prison will fix anymore than locking up a diabetic will cure their diabetes. We are involved in a category mistake that is the biggest item in our state budget. And we know it’s a mistake for three reasons:

It doesn’t work.

We could send them to college (or give them treatment) every year for far less money.

In Europe, because they do deal with these issues, very few people are in prison in comparison to us. (And Original Sin is still operative on the other side of the Atlantic to the best of my knowledge.)

The good news is that as Pope Francis has called on us to “accompany” (to walk with) the poor and the marginal, and the State has gathered them together in prison for our ministerial convenience.

Prison ministry is generally, in my view, safer than walking in a major city. The inmates know who you are. They know you are not their jailer and that you are there to make their life better. Even if a particular inmate would never come to a church program, they would be protective of a volunteer if for no other reason than their volunteer for say an art program may not come in if volunteers are not safe. I was once protected by inmates from walking into the middle of a riot in the yard.

What volunteers need to do is follow the rules that protect them, believe in the value of the program they are offering and trust the Holy Spirit and maintain a pastoral relationship and avoid a personal relationship.

So, does prison ministry work?  Yes, about as well as ministry in your parish does. People often look for some miraculous radical change from inmates. How many of those do you see at your church? Our job is simply to “sow the seed.”

The joy of prison ministry is the experience that Christ was not speaking metaphorically when he said, “I was in prison, and you visited me.” (MT 25:36) He waits for us there today.


Most Viewed Articles of the Last 30 Days

In Memoriam: Sr. Mary Alice Kline, RSM

Posted on November 07, 2022 in: News, Vocations


In Memoriam: Sr. Mary Alice Kline, RSM
Sister Mary Alice Kline, RSM, died peacefully on Baggot Street, Saint Mary Home, West Hartford, on Wednesday, October 26th. Born in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1934, she was a Sister of Mercy for 69 years, she served in ministries throughout CT. Sister Mary Alice earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education at the Diocesan Sisters’ College, Madison CT, (1956), a Masters’ Degree in French from Assumption College, Worcester, MA (1963), an Advanced Certificate in Elementary Education from Southern CT State University, New Britain, CT (1976), and a Masters&rsq...

Read More

Bringing Christ to the Infirm

Posted on November 07, 2022 in: Reflections, Vocations


Bringing Christ to the Infirm
    When my wife was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at Mass, she would also bring Holy Communion to residents at our local convalescent home. Often, she would tell me stories about the people there and how they loved having someone visit them and bring them our Lord. Eventually, I started going with her and I really enjoyed being with the elderly and bringing some joy into their lives. After I became a Eucharistic minister, I started visiting the home myself. I also called bingo for the residents. Along with other volunteers, we had a fun ti...

Read More

The Priest and the Eucharistic Meal - Hope & Faith Video Series
This week on the Hope and Faith Series, Mary-Jo McLaughlin, coordinator of Catholic Family Services, speaks on the role of the priest at the Eucharistic meal. View previous videos or more articles on Faith by visiting NorwichDiocese.org/FaithSparks    

Read More

In Memoriam - Sr. Anita Paul, DHS

Posted on November 30, 2022 in: News, Vocations


In Memoriam - Sr. Anita Paul, DHS
1930 – 2022 Sr. Anita Paul, DHS, 92, a member of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, died on November 23, 2022 at St. Joseph Living Center in Windham, CT. Born on December 31, 1930, in Washington, VT, the daughter of the late Felix and Antoinette (Roberge) Paul, Sr. Anita entered religious life in 1949 and made her religious profession on August 23, 1950 at the Motherhouse in Saint Brieuc, France. She was then known as Sr. Jeanne Benigna. She earned a B.A. in education from Diocesan Sisters’ College, South Woodstock, CT and a M.A. in religious education from...

Read More

Our Advertisers Support Our Ministries

Please Support Our Advertisers

Annual Catholic Appeal


Signup for Weekly Newsletter

    Recently Added Galleries
    Click to view album: Mass of Ordination  for Fr. Jacob Ramos
    Click to view album: Mass of Ordination for Father Lawrence Barile
    Click to view album: Palm Sunday
    Click to view album: Blessing of the Fleet
    Latest Articles
    Save the Dates: Virtual Adult Confirmation Program
    Advent Is Here - He is About to Arrive
    Centennial Celebration of 'The Mother Church of Eastern Connecticut' - and a Plea to Save It
    Enroll Today in Classes at the New England Catholic Biblical School
    ACA: It's Not Too Late to Give
    In Memoriam - Sr. Anita Paul, DHS
    Video: A Visit to St. Mary of the Immacualte Conception in Baltic
    We Can Help. Promise to Protect-Pledge to Heal

    Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich
    201 Broadway
    Norwich, CT 06360-4328
    Phone: 860-887-9294