It Is an Honor
Why visit the prisoners? It seems that it would be a fearful activity to engage in. Columban Sister Joan Sawyer bravely looked that fear in the face and visited prisoners. Eventually, she lost her life in an uprising in a Peruvian prison. May her courageous life inspire many others to follow her example.
Prisons are dangerous places. We are reminded of this time and again by stories in the news. Yet, some 40 years ago, some prisoners reached out and asked for help. They said that they were interested in leading new lives and needed to learn how to do just that.
Good people among the Quakers and others joined together to form the Alternatives to Violence Project. This small effort has spread to dozens of cities and a few international prisons. It aims to provide skills to assist the prisoner in preparing for return to the wider society.
Sister Maureen Connolly, a Franciscan, coordinates this program in Omaha, Neb. Eight times a year, a team of volunteers offers a weekend workshop to prisoners. The workshop seeks to address what has been lacking in terms of communication skills, conflict resolution skills, community building skills and a host of other ways that prisoners may amend their lives and prepare for the future. Since it has been reported that over 90% of prisoners will return to the wider society, there is a crying need to offer assistance in facilitating this transition.
In a recent newspaper report, Barbara Soderlin writes that 4,000 people will be coming out of incarceration in the next three years. Most of these people will come to the city. Diane Good-Collins asks the following question, "Do you want these individuals to return as your neighbors — educated, trained, and ready to do something different — or do you want them to just return?" In her presentation, Good-Collins recommended that human resource managers consider providing opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals to apply for higher-paying and career track employment.
So, why do I do it? I would like to say that it is a corporal work of mercy. It is recommended in the Scriptures, "whoever does this for the least of my brothers and sisters …" In fact, it just seems to be the right thing to do at this time in my missionary journey.
Am I afraid? Yes, sometimes. Generally, I am appreciated and grateful for the chance to journey with someone who truly is striving to turn their life around. It is something of an honor.
So, I let go, asking God to take away the fear and walk into the prison with other volunteers to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for this Columban missionary outreach.
Fr. Tom Glennon lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska.