Prison Ministry

“For I was in prison and you visited me.” Has anyone done prison ministry? Where you afraid of the offenders re-offending when released? Did you have any friendships with prisoners? If so, how did you handle these relationships?

I was in small bible study sponsored by several other college students, with inmates handpicked by the chaplain. It was a minimum security prison, and this was a thoughtful bunch that had admitted they screwed up to get there (although their exact offenses or parole violations were kept confidential). Most seemed unlikely to re-offend, unless they were to relapse.

Close friendships with inmates are frowned upon, as prison officials want to all volunteers to maintain a professional distance to avoid being manipulated. Prisons also have pretty tight regulations about contacting former inmates once they leave prison. If you’re not in a licensed post-release agency, they remove your volunteer access to the prisons.

I have a guy I visit on death row. Because he has behaved himself, he is allowed contact visits, which means I am locked in a cage with him for the duration of the visit. The first time was the scariest, but even now I think I am more freaked out by the close quarters than the guy himself. I am pretty much the only person who visits, besides his attorney, so I don’t think he wants to screw that up by doing something bad.

At one point I was very concerned about him developing an attraction to me but we talked about that and he knows if he hits on me I’m outa there! :slight_smile:

I don’t worry too much about him being released, given the circumstances, but just the same, he does not know where I live, or very much about me, personally. Always err on the side of caution when doling out personal info to inmates.

Hope that helps.

I don’t have an answer to your question but I have a related question. I am interested in ministering to prisoners but my parish does not have this ministry nor does my diocese seem to have any organized programs. However, I have a Protestant friend who is very active through a non-denominational program (REC…Residents Encounter Christ) which is highly organized and seems effective in touching prisoners in jail. She has invited me to participate with her but I don’t know if I would be comfortable doing it. I have joined a women’s Bible study at her church (Methodist) and a few of the teachings are definitely not aligned with Catholic beliefs. I would like to have some comments please.

  1. Yes.

  2. It was their choice to re-offend not mine.

  3. I was friendly, not friends with the inmates. They don’t need buddies, they need authentic service. You can’t be friends with someone you might have to shop to the authorities because they tell you they’ve killed someone and buried the body in a certain place (which happened to me). All the inmates I dealt with knew upfront (big sign in my office) that if they divulged any crime like child abuse, murder, rape etc., I would go to the authorities - but many still told me knowing that, because they sincerely wanted to change, and so didn’t hold it against me when I did.

I’ve never worked in “prison ministry” per se, but I have worked in the industry.

Offenders Re-Offending

This isn’t something that should be feared. The reality is most of the offenders in prison will and do re-offend. Even offenders who serve their time in the community rather than in prison, because they’re deemed a low risk, there is still the risk of them re-offending. It’s something that needs to be accepted.

Friendships with Offenders

Friendships with offenders are not permitted by volunteers or employees. Further, if there is a conflict of interest with an offender and another person, it must be reported ASAP so that, if possible, proper means can be taken to minimize the risks. This isn’t so much an issue with offenders in prison, but with those out in the community, you’re going to run into them (I had many clients who attend the same Mass as me) and you have to know how to deal with such contacts appropriately and professionally. My greatest fear was some imprudent person at the parish giving my personal information out to one of them not knowing who they are. Privacy laws prohibited me from saying anything to them about my information. Sadly, the parish doesn’t fall under the same privacy laws.

Also, I will add, if you do prison ministry, be prudent about the personal information you reveal to them. Realize that offenders are great manipulators (especially those in for fraud). I don’t say this because I’m jaded, because I’m not. In speaking with people at the parish who do prison ministry, I’ve come to realize that a lot of them are very naive and will believe everything an offender will tell them as being 100% true. I know for a fact that on at least one occasion the offender was feeding the woman fluff because she was talking about one of my clients who had went back to jail after he violated his community sentence. I couldn’t say anything, but having had to investigate and confirm everything he told me, I know that what he said was just a flat out lie.

I agree with the above poster.

I’ve had distraught calls from older women asking about a certain inmate.

Please tell me he’s OK. He’s in hospital because he was beaten up. He’s a lawyer who is in jail because he refused to bow to the system. I’m so worried for him. I need to get money to him so he can continue his legal defence. Please go and see him. He feels like a son to me. I lost my son years ago and he is exactly the same age. He even calls me mom.

I followed up. No-one of his description was in the hospital. There was no lawyer in jail at the time. And said inmate was a rapist who had been calling Samaritan phone lines trying to find vulnerable women to defraud.

Said inmate ended up in a heap more trouble.

Can you even reveal that information to these people without violating the FOIP laws, or was FOIP not in effect yet? I hate FOIP. I think the only thing more secure is the Seal of Confession.

If you are a sex offender and I am running a program in the prison and I say to you: if you reveal to me during our work together that you have abused children OTHER than those you are serving time for know that I will pass that info on to your case worker, then I’m not breaking any bounds. Because they will only reveal things to me IF they want them to be dealt with properly through the legal system. Because of this policy I had men reveal information to me that helped them become more honest and which brought healing to people who had been abused.

On the other hand, we had group meetings where this was the policy:

“What you say here,
and what you hear here,
when you leave here,
you let it stay here”

Alberta’s FOIP laws wouldn’t even allow me to confirm for a distraught mother who hadn’t heard from her son in over a week that he was not dead and that he had just been in my office even though she was well aware of her son’s trouble with the law and that he was dealing with me (hence why she called me) Instead I had to instruct her to contact the RCMP (She was in another province) and file a missing person’s report, which would give me the authority to release the information to the RCMP to pass along to her. :shrug: Think of the cost involved in that compared to how much would have been saved by me being allowed to say, “Don’t worry Mrs X. Your son was in to see me recently.” Though, I also suggested she cut off putting money into his bank account. That usually works for getting back into contact with parents.:smiley:

This was pre FOIP.

But I’ve dealt with FOIP in teaching:(

I have not done prison ministry but my father was in prison. I don’t worry about him re-offending now that he’s out. I am friends with him. I love him. I have forgiven him and I truly believe he is a changed man.


I’ve known this to be true. It’s sad…

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