July 26, 2019

Corrections Corner / Deacon John Cord

Inmates longing for the dignity to know that they belong

Deacon John CordAcross the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, there are many dedicated women and men who go into federal and state prisons and county jails every week. They spread the word of God through Bible studies, Liturgy of the Word and Communion services and counseling.

In Jackson County, we have two rotating teams that go into the county jail every Tuesday evening. We are allowed by the sheriff to offer a Communion service once per month. On the other weeks, we celebrate a Liturgy of the Word.

A few weeks ago, when it was my team’s evening to lead, the Gospel reading was from John, chapter 14. Jesus was telling his disciples that God his Father loves them if they love Jesus and one another.

As I reflected on this reading and told the men that Jesus loved each of them and that all of us on the team loved them, I noticed many of them sit up straight and listen. As I continued explaining how much they are loved, I saw many of the men begin to weep.

We have seen this reaction before when we preach of love, when we tell the men and women that the reason we come to visit them is because we love them.

More than once, we have heard them tell us that this is the first time in their lives that someone has told them they are loved. It is always very moving for those of us on the team to hear this because we take it for granted that we have people around us who love us.

But many of the people who live in the margins do not have that kind of love in their lives. Many have never experienced sitting in their mother’s lap as a child as she read to them. Many have never had their father hold them by the hand as they walked.

For these folks, growing up in generational poverty may have meant their parents were in jail or prison for much of their childhood. They may have bounced through foster homes, or may have slept on the couches of people who were distant relatives. Many never had the experiences of a normal childhood.

This lifestyle is one of survival. This lifestyle is one of doing what one must do to make it through the day. It can be a life of pain and suffering. It is no wonder so many who experienced generational poverty end up in our jails and prisons. These folks feel that this is their place. They feel like they don’t belong with “normal” people.

But there is something we can all do: very simple things, especially when we encounter someone who might look like they are in this situation.

We can simply engage in a conversation with them. We can give them a few minutes of our time. By just stopping and chatting with them, we give them the dignity that they may not have experienced before.

We can let them know they belong.

(Deacon John Cord ministers at St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, and is a member of the archdiocese’s Corrections Advisory Committee.)

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