August 18, 2017

A time of transformation: A prayer leads young adults to share emotional experience with youths in prison

When siblings Danny and Katie Klee prayed separately about finding a way to help people in need, they both came up with the plan to reach out to people in prison. The siblings are pictured in their home parish, St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis, where they have established a chapter of an international prayer community. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

When siblings Danny and Katie Klee prayed separately about finding a way to help people in need, they both came up with the plan to reach out to people in prison. The siblings are pictured in their home parish, St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis, where they have established a chapter of an international prayer community. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy (Fourth in an occasional series)

Their closeness as brother and sister has led Danny and Katie Klee to share many emotional moments, but none has been like the one they experienced together in a prison on a recent summer night.

The moment unfolded as the two young adults from St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis continued their efforts to share their faith and their friendship with young males serving time in the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility.

This maximum-security, Indiana prison has a goal of helping the inmates—ranging in age from 12 to 21—return to society “with the necessary skills to avoid further criminal behavior.” And on this evening, at the end of the weekly Bible study, the prison ministry volunteers and several young inmates huddled together, circling one of the youths who would be released from the facility soon.

“We stretched out our hands over him, that he would make the right choices and look for guidance from God,” recalls Danny Klee, who is 32.

The desire for freedom was evident on the face of the young man who would soon be released, just as it was for the youths who still had time to serve. But Katie Klee also was struck by another desire the youths had in that moment.

“It was really emotional to see how badly they desire that sense of support and relationship with God,” says Katie, who is 28. “There’s the joy for them of knowing what they need to do to be successful when they get out, and there’s the fear that they won’t get the support they need when they get out.

“Every one of them desires relationships, whether it’s with someone and/or God.”

What strikes the Klee siblings even more is just how much their relationship with the youths has had an impact on them. It’s an unexpected connection that came from an unexpected result of prayer.

‘It sounded kind of scary’

Besides their bond as brother and sister, Danny and Katie are both theology teachers. Danny teaches middle school students at Christ the King School in Indianapolis, while Katie teaches sophomores at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

They also share the desire to help their students have a personal relationship with Jesus, a goal that Danny expresses to his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in this way, “Jesus wants to be in a relationship with you, so let’s figure out ways to be present to him.”

It’s an approach the siblings have for their own lives, so three years ago they started a chapter of the Community of Sant’Egidio at St. Joan of Arc Parish. A main part of the international prayer community’s focus is offering Christ’s friendship to people in need. The brother and sister just weren’t sure what would be the best way to do that, so they decided to pray about it separately.

Katie’s prayers led her to want to try prison ministry—an involvement that neither had ever done. When she shared her choice with Danny, he told her he had made the same one.

“I was laughing and smiling,” Katie recalls. “We’ve talked a lot about our faith over the years. It was another one of those times when God was working to give us the same feeling, the same conclusion—about a ministry that is so unusual for us.”

Danny nods and adds, “It was like, ‘Wow!’ Some of this was happening in the context of the [Holy] Year of Mercy. And one of the works of mercy is visiting people in prison. It sounded kind of scary, but I thought I should be open to it.”

Their choice was reinforced by Providence through two other moments, Katie says. The first one came when she attended a meeting on how young adults can become involved in their parishes, and a speaker talked about prison ministry. Then she e-mailed Matt Faley, the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry, for contact information to get started in prison ministry.

Faley replied quickly, noting her timing was amazing because just a few minutes earlier the chancellor of the archdiocese, Annette “Mickey” Lentz, had asked him if he knew any young adults interested in prison ministry to be on a task force. Faley told Lentz, “No, but I’ll check around.”

That’s how Danny and Katie became the youngest members of the archdiocesan task force—a group that met regularly for six months in 2016 to formulate a plan to help individuals, parishes and the broader archdiocese itself make an even deeper commitment to prison ministry.

They considered it “humbling” to be part of a group in which some of the members had been doing prison ministry almost as long as the siblings had been alive.

Seeds of friendship

“I could see how passionate the other task force members were about ministering to them and everyone who is affected by crime,” Danny says. “The concern was, ‘How do we get people to see this is an important ministry, and that Christ sees it as important?’ ”

That question and concern led Danny and Katie to make their first visit to the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility in 2016. They were led there by Ron Greulich, another member of the task force and a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, who has been volunteering at the prison for 12 years.

They were both apprehensive as they prepared to enter the prison for the first time.

“You see the physical facility and the barbed wire,” says Danny, who is married and has an infant son. “And there’s a series of doors you go through—and the sounds of them closing and locking. Then we finally get in the facility and Ron leads us to meet with the teenagers there.”

“I remember being scared, not knowing how they were going to react to us,” Katie notes.

Their fears soon faded as the Bible study and the conversation flowed.

“They have no resistance or hesitancy in talking about their faith,” Katie says. “And they’re so eager to have outside people come in.”

Danny adds, “We go into the prison worried and scared. Coming out, it’s a transformative thing. There’s so much richness in the conversation. With all the starkness there, there’s a warmth there of welcoming us in.”

Their visits have continued. So has the connection.

“We’ve established these seeds of friendship, even to the point of talking about these deep elements of faith,” Danny says. “You feel a commonality.”

‘We’re seeing Christ’

It’s a connection that they’ve talked about with their students, a connection that is sometimes challenging for their students to completely embrace.

“My students are baffled that someone like me would walk into a prison,” Katie says. “Their perception is, ‘Why, in your free time, would you do that?’ ”

Danny nods and says, “Growing up, we’re taught there are good people and bad people. The bad people are in prison. ‘Why would you go there?’ But to go there and see the goodness in them challenges what you’ve been taught.

“They have a sense of security when we meet with them that maybe they’ve never had in their lives. They want a deeper relationship with God. And that’s not something they’ve experienced before either. It’s sad.”

Katie says she uses such insights to try to “pull back the veil” from the lives of these young males in prison for her students. Sometimes, the youths in prison also make the brother and sister take a deeper look at themselves.

“One of the kids reflected about how he feels so weak,” Danny says, recalling a moment from their most recent visit in July. “For him to share that was so mature. As a teacher, I’m someone who needs to be in control, but he taught me to embrace the weakness you have—because it’s through that weakness that God will help you and strengthen you in your life.”

That’s the grace the Klees have found through their experience in prison ministry.

“Jesus talks about, ‘I want you to have joy and have it abundantly,’ ” Danny says. “That’s how we feel coming out of prison—that connection, and the joy of talking about God and being able to share it. We’re seeing Christ through our prison ministry. And hopefully some of that remains in there, too.”
 

(The archdiocese will host a Corrections Ministry & Conference from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. All volunteers involved with jail and prison ministry are invited, as are any persons interested in learning more about these ministries. The day will begin with a reflection and celebration of Mass. For more information about this day of prayer, support and education from experts in corrections ministry, contact Lynne Weisenbach, archdiocesan coordinator of corrections ministries, at 317-592-4012 or lweisenbach@archindy.org.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!