To visit a prisoner, maybe someone who
is in prison for murder, and talk to him about himself
and his relationship with God is, according to my
friend, a very moving thing.
I have another friend
- not involved in
ministry - who was convicted of
selling drugs in the bar that he owned in a small
town about thirty-five miles north of New York City. He
had subsequently been exonerated of the crime, but not
before spending a few years in prison.
We were talking over a couple of beers one evening and
he told me the story. One small part of his story is
indelibly written in my memory: his first days in
prison. This big, tough man who’d always commanded
respect and even fear, became sheepish as he related
these pages of his life to me.
“From the moment I stepped off the bus and walked into
the prison, to the moment I left the prison and knew I
was never going back, I was in fear; a level of fear
that I had never known possible. Of course I could
never show it, but I was terrified every minute of every
day.” He told me.
“When I see those documentaries that show a lion chasing
and finally bringing down a small deer, the animal’s
neck locked in the jaws of the big cat, I begin to feel
that terror welling up inside me again…the terror I felt
in prison.” As he spoke, his whole
countenance changed; it put a chill up my spine.
Is this is what my Cornerstone friend exposes himself to
As if weekly visits aren’t enough, my friend brings
weekend religious retreats to these prisoners. I would
like to share this email message he sent to a few of us
after one of these retreats.
Thanks to all of you for your many prayers and Palanca
letters (letters of
Retreat was a complete success. I can't tell you how
many times tears rolled down my face. And yes, some of
those tears were tears of sadness as a result of some of
the men who poured their hearts out by sharing
their painful pasts. There were also many, many tears
of joy when you see a transformation taking place in the
hearts and souls of many as well. To witness the
presence of Christ in a soul that had never met
HIM previously was incredibly profound. It
to witness inmates who for 25 - 30 years had lived a
life in darkness, a life where they refused to allow
anyone to see what they were really
all about - to finally say "I'm done with how I have
been living my life...my old ways just don't work
anymore and I'm ready to now accept Jesus." It was
obvious to me that many of the men literally
forgot that they
were incarcerated. They felt free for the first time in
their entire lives. Their minds were filled with joy
and hope - a feeling that most of them had never
was truly a tremendous experience for me to be part of
this wonderful weekend and I recommend anyone who wants
to have their own faith
rejuvenated to attend a REC Weekend Retreat.
God Bless US All...
What a wonderful story of the rewards of ministry.
Extreme as it may seem to many of us, prison ministry is
one of the things Christ spoke of specifically when
talking about extending a helping hand to Him. In
Matthew 25:34-36 He says, ''Come, you who are blessed by
my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave
me food...in prison and you visited me…”
God With All… The First Commandment
Showing God our love for Him by loving and serving His
other children is a cornerstone of Christ’s
teachings. When asked what the most important
commandment was, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord,
your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and
with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first
commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets
depend on these two commandments.”
While bringing a retreat to a group of prisoners is
remarkable, the foundation of prison ministry is the
weekly visit. REC, and other similar organizations can
teach you about weekly prison ministry. The contact
with a person from the outside alone can lift the
spirits of a inmate, but it is the conversations about
their relationship with God that fills them with hope
and brings purpose into their life. I am told that you,
the visitor, will experience much the same benefit as
In many cases these men have been abandon in prison;
their family and friends having ended all communication
with them long ago. Imagine a man serving a 20, 30 year
or life sentence.
Imagine the difference a strong relationship with God
could make in the life of a man or woman such as this;
the importance conversations with one such as you would
have in giving life to the gifts that God has given this
person, gifts given for the purpose of fulfilling God’s
will. And maybe it is also God’s will that you give
this support. Do you think that you have been given the
corresponding gift to this ministry?
Only you can know
Your visit or letter is the only contact they have with
the world they left behind. The only world they know is
the highly regulated, mean and unforgiving,
institutional one within the prison walls. The weekly
visit of a new friend in God can make all the difference
in the world.
Keep in mind that the prisoners in the REC program are
not the average inmates; they are a very small
percentage of the prison population. These are people
who have come back to their religion, and want to build
a better relationship with God.
The men and women who perform prison ministry are
helping these lost sheep, who are trying to rejoin the
herd. They want to rebuild their relationship with God, and
they have come to the understanding that even
in prison they can live a Christian life and grow closer
to God. Can you imagine how hard this is to do?
This is why the support that prison ministry gives is so
This ministry helps these individuals to keep and grow
in their faith, to live a life of hope in the face of
hopelessness, and to hold at bay the evils of the world
they live in.
Visiting inmates in prison, especially in
maximum-security prisons, is not for everyone.
Although, while you might not think it is something you
can do, you may be wrong. This ministry does not
require a life-time commitment; you can simply try it.
If you have any interest at all, ask a priest at your
parish, or call a nearby prison and ask to speak to the Catholic Chaplin.
want to do prison ministry, but you don’t want to go
into a prison.
Letters of encouragement, or Palanca letters, are a
wonderful way for anyone to do prison ministry.
Palanca is Spanish for lever. A lever is a mechanical
device that helps one lift a heavy object that they
could not do on their own. The Palanca letter is a
spiritual device that helps one lift a heavy burden from
their heart, that they cannot rid themselves of alone.
Writing a Palanca a letter about God and one's
relationship with Him to someone in prison, always
brings the Holy Spirit into mix. These letters are used
during retreats to show the retreatent that he is not
alone in his quest for God. To receive a letter of
encouragement from a stranger shows the recipient that
the Holy Spirit has moved another person to aid him in
his quest; that through a mutual love for God in Christ
Jesus, a stranger has reached through the prison walls
to touch him.