A faith-based program at the Fayette County Detention Center using pastoral experience, Correctional psychology, Wisdom traditions including AA, group dynamics and volunteers. The project coordinator has 17 years experience in correctional consulting and 40 years experience in pastoral counseling (overlapping :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Remarks by Judge Bouvier at the Detention Center annual awards event

It is an honor for me to be invited here to help celebrate your work as volunteers at the jail. In Matthew 25:36 the Lord tells those who enter into Heaven: “I was naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye came unto me.� Those who were sent into the everlasting fire were told: “ . . . I was in prison and ye visited me not.�

To a Catholic, “To visit the imprisoned� is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

You who are involved in prison ministries and education deserve special commendation, or to return to the theme of Matthew 25, a special place in heaven.

First, because of the people you work with. Imprisonment as the primary method of punishment for crimes is historically relatively new. Throughout history there have been prisoners, but most of them were only held awaiting trial for which the punishment would be death or whipping or maiming.

When the early Christians would visit prisoners it was most often members of their own faith who, like the Apostle Paul, were imprisoned for practicing or preaching their religion. Other common types of long-term prisoners in centuries past included people held for ransom like King Richard the Lionhearted or those imprisoned for debt. In those cases people would most often be visiting friends, acquaintances or family members who were not accused of any crime.

As we did away with most capital offenses and no longer use beating, maiming and disfigurement as punishment, those who we can visit in prisons and jails are a concentration of a different type: dysfunctional in many ways, often sociopathic or mentally ill, frequently hostile or untruthful, and not always grateful.

I saw it myself as a public defender, and I have seen public defenders and pro bono attorneys spit on by their clients, have water poured on them, even physically assaulted, and that’s just in court.
When a prisoner asks me for probation or early release I go to my computer and check the inmate’s institutional behavior record. Frequently, I see page after page of insults, curses and threats against jailers, medical staff, Comprehensive Care, probation officers and other prisoners.. I know that there are many, maybe even most, who don’t act that way, but I salute you for directing your efforts toward a difficult population.

It is not always easy to see Christ in them or to get satisfaction out of what you are doing. It is easier to contribute to a children’s charity or to crusade against a disease, where the victims seem more innocent and deserving. It is easier to drive that last nail in a Habitat house and know that the house will be there tomorrow and next week and next year.

In prison ministries the frustration of recidivism and failure is always present, but you have had the courage to persevere. I sometimes had that kind of experience as a public defender. I would get some guy off on a charge or get him probation, and the next Monday morning he’d be sitting there in the holdover with a silly grin on his face and a new charge. I get that same look from guys who I just put on probation and then they show up on the docket a few days later. I applaud your willingness to keep trying with folks who sometimes seem determined not to benefit from your help.

The second reason that I applaud your work is that you aren’t just visiting the imprisoned, providing a break in the monotony and the comfort of human contact. You are also bringing something of value to them: literacy, employment skills, spiritual enlightenment, anger management or help in coping with substance abuse.

It’s a cliche to say that someone “makes a difference.� Well, the difference can be positive or negative. The inmates here have made a negative difference. They have damaged the lives of others through the things they have done. Not just the legal victims of their crimes, but their own families. A few years ago I prosecuted a guy on drug charges. His mother tried to testify on his behalf, but as she described the things he did, like how she was evicted from her apartment because he stole her rent money to support his addiction, it became obvious that having him gone would be the only way she got any relief.

Other families have been financially devastated by attorneys’ fees and bail bonds, especially when the defendant jumps bail and the bond is forfeited. In too many cases grandparents are raising the children.

I assume that most of you read the Herald-Leader series which followed the lady through Drug Court. Tragically, according to the articles, the step-father who went to prison for incest was the closest thing to a stable and responsible adult in the family. The rest of the family would get drunk or high and leave the kids with him.

This is a copy of last week’s Hancock County Clarion, from Hawesville, KY. It has an article about a faith-based drug and alcohol program called Celebrate Recovery. The man in the picture started the group when he found himself raising his grandchildren after his meth-addicted daughter abandoned them.

I have talked about these things, not to bash the inmates, but to emphasize why it is so important to have people like you who can teach the skills that will enable these guys to act in a way which is not harmful to others. Even if you only reach a few of them, that effect will ripple out and provide relief to all those would otherwise be harmed.

The third thing you do is to provide examples of people who are mature and trustworthy. People who say, “I’ll be back tomorrow� and actually come back tomorrow. People who do things for others, whether you do it because you see Christ in them or simply because it is the right thing to do. This may be the most important part of what you do, because many of them, due to their lifestyles and the people they associate with, have a warped view of what is normal. Your presence in the lives of these inmates shows them that people can be dependable and responsible.

For all of these reasons, I congratulate you and thank you for your work here.

1 Comments:

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