Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington is blessed to have volunteers who are hard at work in our local jails. This labor of love reminds the incarcerated that they are cherished sons and daughters of God, they are not forgotten, and that they are loved. As Christ said in Matthew 25: we will find God in the prisons, so we need to go there to help the imprisoned discover Him and to find His love for them through our ministry. The volunteers serve as a beacon of light in a place that unfortunately can seem like a spiritual desert. They are the hands and feet of God, visiting the imprisoned, offering hope and redemption.
Prison can be a dark place. Even though they may be surrounded by many other inmates, many feel a great pain of loneliness for their loved ones. Inmates constantly worry about their families. Their significant other/spouse needs them. Their kids need them. At the same time, their family may be fed-up with them being in jail. They may not want to have anything to do with them. Yet there is nothing inmates can do about it. They are cut off from their families. Visits are far and few between and when they receive visitors they can only talk to them through a video feed. Meaningful communication is difficult and there is no internet or phone calls for inmates.
Institutional life is bleak. There is no color in jail. It’s a scheduled, regimented life. There is no personal space or privacy and it is loud. Clothes do not fit. When you are in jail, your life is out of your control and you have very few rights. While the jail does its best to offer programs, there is not much to do. There is so much uncertainty while you are in jail as it is often unclear when you will be released. Court dates are slow in coming and you may be in jail for long periods before you are finally sentenced; sometimes having served enough time by then that you are released at your sentencing hearing. The people around you have as many problems as you do. Fellow inmates are constantly coming and going. You spend a lot of mental energy just trying to stay out of trouble and following the rules.
Then there is shame. Prisoners often describe themselves as no good, losers, failures and to use a word that Pope Francis often uses, part of the “throw away culture.” Inmates describe terrible guilt, feel unworthy and experience great sadness. They are angry with themselves. Life in jail feeds depression and anxiety. You live in a quiet state of desperation. You never want to come back to jail, but you don’t really know how to escape the traps that got you there in the first place.
With this negative mindset, it is difficult to use the time appropriated to you to meaningfully reflect on your life and learn how to turn your life around. It’s hard to climb out of the mental black hole. As we know, when Christ died on the cross he committed to going to the lowliest of the low, to the places that are dark and isolated. To prove His love his crucifixion and Resurrection prove that He has not abandoned anyone. It is our job to bring that message of love and the active presence of God even in prison. He loves them and seeks to be with them. It is our job as Catholics to bring that good news into the prisons in our diocese.
That is where Catholic Charities Prison Ministry volunteers come in. Catholic Charities understands that people have to have consequences for their behavior, but given that, our volunteers show them that God still loves them and it’s our duty to not only remind them of that love but to show it. They bring the Word to those who most need it and at a time when they are at their lowest. They pray with the inmates, listen, bring communion, encourage and teach. The inmates can count on the volunteers. They come every week. And the volunteers come because they see inmates would do climb out of their dark spaces; inmates who take God back into their lives; inmates who themselves initiate prayer groups and begin the re-establishment of their dignity on their own. No rewards are more fulfilling than these. If you feel called to participate in this holy work, please find more detailed information below:
Current locations of Jail Ministry Programs by location and by Parish (Feb. 2017)
|Alexandria Detention Center, Basilica of St. Mary|
|Arlington County Detention Center, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church|
|Fairfax County ADC, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church|
|Loudoun County Jail, St. John the Apostle Catholic Church|
|Prince William/Manassas Regional ADC, All Saints Catholic Church|
|Northwestern Regional ADC, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church|
|Coffeewood Correctional Facility, Precious Blood Catholic Church|
|Kairos at Buckingham, Fluvanna, Virginia Correctional Center for Women (Goochland), Nottoway|
At these locations, Jail Ministry Volunteers of the parish and local community bring the message of hope and the unconditional love of God to the inmates, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the ministry of presence, celebration of liturgies, reception of sacraments, study of faith and Holy Scripture. Volunteers provide opportunities of witness to the Faith and evangelization to the unbaptized and those that seek union with the Catholic Faith. Each location has various schedules, times and needs.
Bill Hall is the Catholic Charities Coordinator of Prison Ministry. For information regarding locations, times, opportunities, and the application process for volunteering inside the jails and prisons, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (703) 841-3832.
Sally O’Dwyer is the Director of Volunteers for Catholic Charities. Please contact her at email@example.com or call 703 841 3838.