31 March 2008

Bringing Hope To Those Behind Bars

H/T The Deacon's Bench for this article in The Chronicle Herald about Deacon Brian Smiths work to bring hope to those in prison. After 12 years as a full time chaplain at a men's correctional facility, he currently is ministering to female inmates 3 times a week. He describes some of the differences,

"From all he’s seen and experienced over the years, Brian feels incarceration is harder on women than men, particularly because of the separation it represents from kith and kin.

Not only that, he says, but many women, even though they may have committed a crime, are more likely to be the real victim, in some way. Brian reminds me that many women are abused at home or in a relationship, or are forced into addiction or some other vice by a relative or a loved one."

The message Brian tries to take with him into prison is one of hope.

"I like to think I’m giving them some kind of hope for a better life, for a better tomorrow, for them and their children."

It doesn’t always work, he admits. Some inmates will never be rehabilitated or feel remorse.

"You just have to love them and keep on trying to support them in any way you can."

He tells me that part of his prison duties is to give bereavement notices to inmates. He remembers one middle-aged inmate whose son had died violently. When Brian broke the news, the man fell to pieces.

"He felt himself trapped," he explains. "He wanted to be with his son. He felt he’d let him down because he wasn’t there to be with him, that he’d failed as a parent."

Brian remembers the heartbroken inmate kicking and screaming and crying. As with so much of life behind bars, Brian found it tremendously draining.

Just how tough is it in prison these days? Brian tells me 90 per cent of inmates are there because of some addiction.

"The attitude of inmates, when they’re together or in a group of other inmates, they have one personality: big tough guys who flex their muscles."
"They have another side?" I interrupt.

Oh yes, says the deacon. "When you take them into the chapel, or in the office and shut the door, they . . . go back in time; they remember when they were children." They remember being taken to church, playing while Mass was being held. They think back to some of the things their parents and grandparents tried to teach them.

"Some of the big tough guys get really teary eyed," says Brian. "They feel like a failure; that they’ve let someone down. "He shakes his head sadly. "They don’t recognize that they let themselves down."

Brian tells me that all prison inmates are offered a Bible, and that those who accept it become so absorbed in it that within a month the pages becomes dog-eared and heavily underlined.
The deacon isn’t surprised. When your world is reduced to a small cell, you start feeling no one cares.

"These are truly lost souls," he reflects.

He remembers befriending a young man who was in Burnside for a home invasion. The inmate had become an adherent of the Bible but, tragically, had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have long. Brian arranged for him to conduct the readings during regular prayer services and it was during this period that the dying man revealed he’d never been baptized. He asked to be admitted to the church. The inmate asked for full-immersion baptism but the only vessel large enough was the tub in the prison laundry.

Brian decided it would do just fine, so that’s where the ceremony was held, presided over by a priest and witnessed by the other prisoners. The deacon, who took the young man as his godson, will never forget the moment.

"When he came up for the third time, he had the biggest, most contented smile on his face. He’d found Jesus — in the bottom of a laundry tub in a prison chapel."

Despite its tremendous difficulties I think most people involved in prison ministry will tell you that it is the most rewarding ministry they have been involved with. Please remember them in your prayers and consider what Jesus said, "When I was in prison, you visited me."

There is more of the article to read here.

No comments:


This blog and the opinions are all my own and in no way imply the endorsement from any organization. Nor does a recommendation of another blog or web site imply my agreement or endorsement of everything found on their site.