An Appeal for Prison Ministers Everywhere
Editor’s Note: Lay missioner Mari Snyder describes her experience serving in prison ministry and encourages others to perform this corporal act of mercy.
I’ll miss climbing up into Norma’s white pickup truck and heading north 7.5 miles, speaking with my friend in my best “slow and halting” Spanish. We can stop shielding our eyes from the waning sunlight and flip up the visors as soon as she turns right onto Route 191. As the sun sinks quickly behind the Mule Mountains over our left shoulders, it’ll splash a spectrum of color upon the majestic Chiricahua Mountains to the right.
I suspect the men we are going to visit have one of the most gorgeous landscapes in America to gaze upon… when they look over the razor wire twirls atop the fencing and block out the sound of the doors and gates slam-slam-slamming incessantly.
I’ll soon say goodbye to C, J, E, R, A, M, A, and J, whom I have been visiting every Monday evening at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Douglas since January 2023. I am so glad I said “yes” to becoming a prison minister; it has been so much more rewarding than I had imagined. And I may secretly be as happy and proud as J’s grandmother; what an honor it was to help prepare this future-focused man in his mid-‘30s to receive his rites of initiation – Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation – then know he sent a copy of his certificate to her to frame.
If you have a prison in your local community, I invite you to consider becoming a prison minister. I explain why in the appeal I made during last weekend’s Mass at St. Luke’s in Douglas:
Good evening, all. It’s been lovely to be part of this parish community; I’ve enjoyed my time volunteering in the area and across the Border with the Franciscan Mission Service.
So what was your first thought a minute ago when you heard I would pitch this idea of you becoming a prison minister?!
Perhaps one – or EVERY one – of these three thoughts just crossed your mind; they certainly crossed mine a year ago!
Number 1: “I think I might feel uncomfortable.” No need to — the men look forward to being there and are ready to participate; they eagerly take a seat in the circle of chairs. They offer reflections that are very on-point, moving and insightful. Their families typically live far away so they are glad to see you; they express their gratitude heartily. And you are likely their only visitor.
Number 2: “How would I know what to say?” No problem. You and your partner get a booklet for the group to read through together. It has the readings from Mass and reflections. Sometimes a phrase from the Gospel is the perfect invitation for their participation. In fact, I just did my prep work at this Mass – I know what will get them talking. And then I will listen, facilitate, and listen…. Listening may be the most important thing you do.
We always share a sign of peace and offer intentions. Let me give you a sense of what’s in their hearts and on their minds: they pray for the safety of children in schools, a solution for global hunger, that a kidnapped mother and child in Haiti will be found. Then, sure, they ask for prayers for their sick father or a daughter about to give birth. They are selfless in their prayers, so it is I who offer prayers for them.
Number 3: Lastly, “I don’t have the time.” I don’t have an answer for this one. It’s up to each of us to discern how we could make the time. The program is one night a week, less than an hour for a group.
What I can tell you is that when I’m driving home Monday night, I often have more energy than when I arrived. And generally, something one of the men said has meaning for my own life, and I’m reflecting on that.
This ministry is fulfilling, fruitful, uplifting for all – I’m so glad and grateful I said “yes” a year ago. These men will tell you they made mistakes, that they are struggling with family or health issues, so now, you may be the most perfect person to convey God’s mercy and forgiveness, love and compassion, or the Franciscan values of peace and personal presence.
Is Jesus calling you tonight, as he did with his followers when he said, “For I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:36)
Question for Reflection: After reading Mari’s blog, would you consider serving as a prison minister?