August 23, 2019

Corrections Corner / Deacon Steven Gretencord

Strengthen family life, society through criminal justice reform

So often we hear the comment “lock them up and throw away the key” in regard to those in our jails and prisons.

The incarcerated are oftentimes viewed as an unwanted and disposable segment of society, incorrigible and unworthy of any consideration or hope of change.

While these people occupy cells in the jails or prisons, they are assumed to be where they deserve to be in order to “teach them a lesson.” As long as the offenders are behind bars, they are seen as devoid of any value and are viewed as being people who “got what they deserved,” and “will never change.”

That is not what our Lord taught. Jesus taught forgiveness, and he reached out to everyone. He was a friend to outcasts, sinners and prisoners.

As Catholic Christians, we are called to emulate our Lord, and this includes going out of our way to reach out and minister to all who have strayed, particularly those who have made poor choices and run afoul of the law.

I would suggest that when we begin to doubt the need and value of seeking out and ministering to the incarcerated, we re-read the Gospel of Luke: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one…” (Lk 15:4). This is our mandate; this is our purpose: to search out those who have wandered away from or never discovered Christ.

A great place to start is in our jails and prisons. Many of the offenders are eager to start over for their families and themselves, but they are confused about where and how to begin anew.

Of course, we know that the answer is to turn to Jesus the Christ. It is at this point in their search that the inmates look for someone to turn to in order to receive help and guidance as they begin to journey toward Jesus.

It is at this point that they are looking for someone to lean on, someone that they can begin to trust, someone who actually cares about them as a human being.

That is the purpose and the goal of those of us who minister to the incarcerated: to be that someone whom the offenders can turn to. This is what motivates us to walk through those often-foreboding doors and to enter a world that can seem to be hostile. We voluntarily allow those steel doors to slam shut behind us because that is what Christ asks of us in order to seek out the lost sheep.

There are many who do not understand why we use our time and energy to reach out to those who are accused or convicted of crimes. My response is: “Why would I not seek out and try to help those who are incarcerated, for after all they are my brothers and my sisters?”

(Deacon Steven Gretencord ministers at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and the Federal Corrections Complex, both in Terre Haute, and is a member of the archdiocese’s Corrections Advisory Committee.)

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