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.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What ministry can serve to recruit....?

What Ministry Can Serve to Recruit

a Reluctant Non-canonical priest?

(A possible story for Diaspora?)

by Paschal Baute

One of the best "treats" in attending many conventions of married priests has been the learning of the diverse ministries shared by those attending, learning mostly informally, between workshops, which was often the best part for me.

(I have wondered why we have not featured our own more than seek known inspirational speakers?. The most telling remark I ever heard was a casual one, from a newly married priest who shared: "I have had more self-empying in my young marriage than I ever had in my priesthood!")

In central Kentucky I have served for many years as informal convener of our group of colleagues but a particular challenge was always out of my reach. One married priest friend would attend our conferences, listen politely but remain skeptical of any personal involvement in ministry, sometimes raising conservative type questions about what we were doing. He was devout and bright but remained aloof from return to the ministries we were doing. Multi-lingual, he was successful in business and later in college teaching, he was personable with many friends. He was not interested in FCM or Corpus.

In the summer of 2002, I began looking around for more opportunity to exercise priestly ministry. I began by asking myself where among human needs was a Catholic priest seldom seen? Nursing homes, retirement villages and the county jail or detention center was the answer. I took on all three, but this is the story of the third, the county detention center here with 1200 beds. I began visiting inmates with the correctional chaplain for several months in that summer. We would go together to answer particular inmate requests. I soon began to feel that I could do much more than one on one visits.

I had worked in correctional settings for some 16 years, ran many therapy groups both there and elsewhere, and retreats with much interfaith work. That August, I conceived and proposed a difference kind of therapeutic program, interfaith, accepting all Wisdom traditions, but emphasizing the tools of spiritual growth, not talk about God or the Bible. After much discussion, the principles were approved. Fortunately, then Lt. Eads, a Buddist, was the instrumental as administrative "gatekeeper." I started alone in March of 2003. I quickly realized it this kind of program was going to work, we would need more volunteers and I began recruiting, eventually some ten who would last. It was not until we had regular daily lessons for example, that the inmates were motivated to have their own afternoon group sessions and lake leadership roles. Volunteers gave two hours per week at the time of their choice, and basically shared their own faith journey with some attention to the workbook of exercises developed by myself. The program was called "The Fierce Landscape for the Spiritual Warrior." The philosophy was that these repeat addictive offenders needed a rude environment for a spiritual "boot-camp" experience and the hard work at hand.

Our Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky, meeting since 1989 was our sponsoring group and source of early volunteers. By early 2004, we had recruited almost enough volunteers although there was turn over. (Now we have a half day training every 3 months for our program volunteers). Busy though he was, now teaching at two universities, and having only a few hours on Saturday morning free, I decided to call on my reluctant married priest friend. Could he, would he respond to this obvious human need where he needed to bring only his own faith witness? He did not need to do sacraments. To my surprise, he said yes and this gave the program six daily lessons to fill a week.

My friend has been one of the most regular of all volunteers rarely missing a session only upon necessity – where regularity is important to our program inmates. Recently, my friend told me, "Paschal, you have given my priesthood back to me!"

He is so involved, passionate and competent in this weekly lessons that I learned some inmates plan all week to come up with a question about God, faith or religion that might stump him. So profound and learned is his faith, that I cannot imagine Rev. Father Guido Caspani, Ph.D., Professor of Romance Languages, teaching Spanish, French and Italian and Honors Programs in two current universities, is ever stumped!

What makes this program "work" best of all is that the inmates experience the loving commitment of a diverse group of faithful volunteers, regularly. They experience faith being expressed in many ways. Chaplain Howell told me he once asked the inmate group whether they thought I was "Christian." They finally agreed that I was indeed a Christian but a "very different kind of one." Should we all be so?

Inmates must complete 12 weeks of work, behavior change, before they can earn a certificate. We do have too much turn over in a detention, basically a holding facility, but over 100 have had some exposure to our program and many have told us it is the best program they have ever been part of.

The program has been blessed in many ways, the quality of the volunteers, and by the recent chaplain who jumped in and became one of the program leaders. He tell us this group is the highlight of his work week. I think it is because he observes real change coming out of the group process that is ongoing.

I was surprised and humbled when Guido told me what he did. I never thought I might be a tool in someone recovering their lost priestliness.

What was it? What was the key here?

Was it "When the student is ready the teacher will appear." (Zen Saying?) Simply timely?

Or was it that anointed and blessed hands are haunted by some words:

"The Spirit of the Lord has been give to me

for he has anointed me.

He has sent to bring good news to the poor

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and to the blind new sight.

To set the downtrodden free

and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor."

–Luke 4: 18-19, Jerusalem Bible.

When we hear that Voice, we cannot help but respond.

Outcome? Guido is blessed. I am blessed. The inmates in our program are blessed. The program and the team of volunteers is blessed. Correctional staff in the unit of 8 pods with 96 inmates notices behavior changes. A bit of kindness and love has been added to the universe. There is hope where there was none. The universe itself smiles.

____

End

Further information on this program can be found at paschal’s web site, paschalbaute.com, clicking on blogs and go down to Fierce Landscape blog. The workbook has been digitized and is now available free via email. Contact Paschal@paschalbaute.com.

Reference (and recommended, see internet for reviews)

Lane, Belden C. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.