(Part 1 of 2)
What do you do when you feel a little bit less energetic or somewhat depressed to do anything?
That was a predicament that I had to fight back for about week when I lacked the stimulation to work outside my mundane tasks day after day. Alone for several weeks while my wife was in the Philippines, taking care of our two young granddaughters, some church and Rotary volunteer work, and lots of reading and writing provided some degree of subterfuge to my busy-ness. To change a downward spiral in my internal thermostat, after my Monday morning Bible Study followed by a morning mass, I forced myself to visit the Orange County Jail to fulfill my commitment as a Catholic prison minister at the Women’s Intake and Release Center (IRC) in Sta. Ana, California, by providing communion services and bible study for a couple of hours. Miraculously, last Monday’s visit was unusually uplifting that changed my paradigm for the better.
A brief backdrop about my never-planned involvement in this prison ministry: God indeed works in mysterious ways and often uses other human beings to do His will. Despite the fact that I have been attending mass regularly since high school, and Bible study for almost ten years, I never thought nor imagined doing this unknown ministry for laymen, until a long time trusted Rotarian friend called me if I could visit her daughter in jail who was accused of murdering her husband. Much as I wanted to go then, I could not for many reasons. Among others, I did not have the badge as a prison minister nor the training to do that kind of ministry work then. However, I was able to request my Bible study classmates who were already prison ministers to visit the daughter for me, which they did. The following week, all of them told me that my friend’s daughter was asking for me. That was the profound catalyst of my saying YES to my classmates’ countless invitations for me to join their prison ministry work.
Completing the required trainings and background checks from both the Diocese of Orange and the OC Sheriff’s Office over a couple of months, I was granted that prison ministry badge. Thereafter, I was able to see, talk and minister to my friend’s beautiful daughter while she was still incarcerated at the County Jail awaiting her trial then. (She was then transferred to a California State prison for women after her unfortunate conviction, where I continue to visit her with her mom). Through God’s grace, I have been visiting the County Jail for about five years now, for a minimum 4-6 hours every month, and it has been one of the most fulfilling volunteer work that I have done in my life.
Now, let me give you a peek of what happens in our a prison ministry “classroom.” Anyone — including us prison ministers, although been “cleared” — must still go through formal procedures to enter the facility. First, we give our IDs to a deputy who will then allow us to go to another room to get our day’s pass, and passing through a couple of metal doors that are opened every time one is cleared to enter. Then, a uniformed deputy escorts us, except a few accredited priests, deacons or chaplains, to the assigned ministry classroom. What transpires in that classroom is monitored by deputies who can hear anything being said at their discretion.
Just walking and observing through the corridors from the first entry, you can feel that you are in a different “planet” and can be very scary when you see inmates’ activities in their orange prison garbs (men and women are separated by buildings or mods). Some inmates (that’s what they are called when they are in county jails, and once there are in state or federal prisons then they are called “prisoners”) are in solitary confinement for their protection and the protection of other inmates as well. Many cats and dogs in many American homes are treated much better than many of them especially those in solitary incarceration, as many of them are out of their cells for only about two hours a day. Hence, many attend our Catholic services, although some are not Catholics, just to be out of their cells.
(To be continued next week)
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