“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?”
We are blessed to work in Jail Ministry. While our roots source from diverse faiths and traditions, we share the same passion to serve people out at the farthest margins and with the greatest needs. There are scarcities of windows and hope when people come into jail. In this lack of true light, many people lack healthy relationships, mental wellness, and healthy behaviors not chained in addiction. Most people come here also lacking “stuff,” and many times, requests for stuff are the first requests I get – paper, pencil, envelopes, stamps, greeting cards, books, magazines, playing cards, and puzzles.
In this actual poverty, and in this mentality of poverty, the challenges can often feel overwhelming. The odds do not seem in my favor as I walk with someone and encourage a shift of focus from seeking base items to seeking a relationship with God.
We become broken. We need mercy, grace, and love. I have just heard some things from Pope Francis in conversations now at the Synod on Young People that crystallize for me how we carry out our mission: that morality is when we fall, (not if we fall), we get back up; and that we must put in the center the One who heals all wounds.
I am blessed to work in Jail Ministry. I hope that you and our local congregations will continue to support our ongoing ministry to “the neediest of God’s children,” as my predecessor Deacon Tom Skemp often referred to our people here. I also hope that you will support our additional endeavors to share prayer requests from people in jail with our local communities of faith, and to find more ways to reconnect or connect people with local congregations before they are released from jail.
Lastly, I was asked to share about myself. I am the oldest of 5 children of a Roman Catholic family who has lived for a few generations in Tennyson and Potosi, rural Southwest Wisconsin. I always wanted to be a priest, attended Holy Name Seminary in Madison, then no longer felt called to the priesthood. I acquired a Masters in Social Work as a means of “secular ministry.” I have counseled people in homeless shelter for people with severe mental illness, in two daytime resource centers for people who are homeless, and in two housing authorities. I have worked in children and families services in Arizona on the Tohono O’odham Nation, the 2nd largest reservation in the United States, and in Wisconsin. Here in La Crosse, I organized the 2015 and 2016 multi-faith prayer services for the La Crosse Community Thanksgiving Dinner, and I served as the Director of Compassionate Community Faith Alliance (CCFA) as we grew 13 Circles of Support of volunteers to meet weekly in supportive relationships for people after their incarceration for 6 months. Teaching parenting classes in this jail for the last 7 years has been my favorite job. My journey and guidance in ministry is summed up by the hymn by Father Willard Francis Jabusch that I’ve been singing in my head since I was a boy:
“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”
Thank you for everything you do for Jail Ministry.