July 23, 2021

Corrections Corner / Richard Hoying

Prison ministry helps those incarcerated make spiritual connection

Richard HoyingI have visited prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute for the past 18 months. The largest surprises have come in what these visits teach me about myself. Among these, I would not have known that I had any ability to discuss aspects of the personal spiritual journeys of the prisoners.

Reggie is 29 years old and has been incarcerated for nearly all of the time after he was 16, the last eight years in Terre Haute. On our last visit, Reggie introduced me to the street phrase: “jumped off the porch,” meaning “started hustling in the streets.” Reggie “jumped off the porch” at age 12 when “home” for his mother, brother and sister was a Pontiac Grand Am.

I share this background so that readers might understand the obstacles Reggie has faced in coming to his present spiritual “maturity,” following Muslim prayer and religious practices. During our April visit, in the middle of Ramadan, Reggie was genuinely joyful that this time of sacrifice (only cold cereal before dawn and cold prison food leftovers after dusk, no TV, etc.) had brought him closer to God than he had ever been.

We hear about such joy in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, but I can’t say that I had previously witnessed this in anyone. Reggie also told me of his increased reverence in prayer, saying, “I pray to let God know that I’m here.”

John was raised Catholic. Since coming to Terre Haute (after stints in state prisons), he has actively taken part in the programs that are available. He will soon graduate from one of the programs. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but he told me of “spiritual care” dimensions of the prison program.

He was particularly thankful for the spiritual guidance provided by Providence Sister Dorothy in leading a part of the course of study. Through John, I’ve come to appreciate just how meaningful “Catholic witness” and “Catholic prayer” are to him as an individual.

At this difficult time in his life, he is truly being fed through his book of daily devotions, through his continued correspondence with a deacon he met in state prison, and through the ministers at Terre Haute. My conversations with John remind me of the spirituality and mindfulness available to us as Catholics, if we get away from our distractions and seek him.

In her book, Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration, Dr. Christine Montross describes the lengths to which those in solitary confinement go to make connection with their fellow prisoners. As a volunteer visitor, I hope I can provide prisoners with a human connection to someone on the “outside.”

Another prisoner, George, calls the visits “a short time on an island” inside the prison. But I’ve also come to appreciate the spiritual connection that these men have shared. It would seem that forgiveness and redemption reside at that interface of human and spiritual connection.

Perhaps we volunteers can play a small part in assisting those in prison ministry make those connections.

(Richard Hoying is a member of the archdiocesan Corrections Ministry Advisory Committee and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville.)

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