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No ‘typical days’ in prison ministry

 

By Peter Oliver

07/27/2016

Sometimes we are asked, can you describe a typical day in your work with Micah? It’s a bit difficult to respond to this question because there are really no typical days when you minister to people who are involved with the criminal justice system. This is one of the things that make our work exciting and challenging. Instability and uncertainty are part and parcel of our daily encounters. Consider the messages on our email and answering machines as we wrote this reflection. A soon-to-be-released prisoner is looking for a place to live, a pastor inquires about the practicality of welcoming a person back to their community following a period of incarceration, our little victims’ group wonders about the need for professional support so as not trigger traumatic memories as people share their experiences.

While our days aren’t routine, apathetic and antagonistic attitudes are fairly commonplace. I am repeatedly ignored as I wait to pass through security at the prison gate and later in the day I cringe as racial slurs spew out of a former inmate’s mouth. At a social, a hurting and insensitive woman says the people we befriend are “a waste of skin” and another says “it would be better if they were all shipped out of town.”

That is the negative side, but as we walk with inmates, victims, police, parole officers, elders and other ministers, we are touched by many sacred encounters as well. Dave witnesses the care and compassion that is realized between a volunteer and former inmate as he joins in one of our 13 support circles. An elder who accompanies our Forward Step group at the correctional centre moves me. His words are filled with humility and respect for all the people in the circle. I am also touched by the commitment of our dioceses as they look to engage a new priest in ministry at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (federal prison) in Saskatoon.

Holy moments and hard moments are a part of each day. Other days will be spent driving to the Prince Albert Penitentiary, having coffee with a young man who sustained a permanent brain injury after an unprovoked assault and, of course, there will be many meetings — with the board, with our volunteers, with committees — what would ministry be without meetings? But what most typifies everything we do is the sense that in the mess and mirth, misery and mystery, God is smiling on our ministry.

Oliver works in chaplaincy and development for The Micah Mission in Saskatoon.