La Crosse Jail Ministry offers inmates spiritual direction, rehabilitative support, and connections to faith communities.
As of January, 2023:
- Harvey Witzenburg, President (Onalaska United Methodist Church)
- Rabbi Brian Serle, Vice-President (Congregation Sons of Abraham)
- Lynn Blakely, Treasurer - firstname.lastname@example.org (Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church)
- Sister Nina Shephard , Secretary ( Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
- Daniel Carlson, Finance Chair (Cornerstone Community Church)
- Dee Paque (Roncalli Newman Church)
- Christine Magnuson (St. Charles Catholic Church)
- Sally Kelsall (Circles of Support)
- Bill Pretasky (Hope Church)
- Karilyn Parrott (Bridges United Methodist Church)
- Rev. Krysta Deede (Onalaska United Methodist Church)
Jail and Board Staff
- Captain James Verse
- Mike Kiefer
- Sheriff John Siegel
After serving in administrative positions at Viterbo College for 26 years, S. Mynette Gross began a new career in parish ministry at St. James Parish in La Crosse. She gradually learned that some families had members in the County Jail who had no connection with their churches or any opportunities for spiritual growth. After talking about this with Fr. Bernard McGarty in 1983, they decided to begin a ministry for people in jail. “Our first purpose was to have a balanced jail ministry,” McGarty said, “one that didn’t favor one denomination over another.” (From an undated La Crosse Tribune article by Gayda Hollnagel) Fortunately, they had the support of Sheriff Sylvia Boma for this ministry.
Their first task was forming an ecumenical board for Jail Ministry. S. Mynette served as chair and was later succeeded by Rev. Charles Evavold from Holmen. Other representatives from the local religious community on the board were the Reverends Richard Burlingame, Armin Heidmann and Daniel Vinge. Community representatives on the board were Tiny Anania, Jim Bannen, Georgia Carr, Bob Daley, Dick Record and Bill Transberg.
Their next task was hiring a Chaplain, Jim Johnson, an ordained Presbyterian minister. Jim was hired part-time in 1984 and then became a full-time employee in 1985.
The ministry was supported by donations from churches, civic groups and various grants. It also received money from the greater La Crosse Area United Way and La Crosse County. Initially, the ministry included regular ecumenical worship services with volunteer prayer leaders from various denominations in the area. For a few years, the bakery at St. Francis Hospital also supplied baking to serve after each Sunday evening worship service.
A goal was “to really help these people to become better adjusted and make a new life for themselves,” according to S. Mynette in a La Crosse Tribune article. As the ministry continued, Bible study groups were formed for both men and women, a recreation program was initiated and continued for a few years and basic supplies such as writing paper, pencils and stamps were provided through funds in the budget. Volunteers continued to lead Sunday evening worship services, write “thank you” notes to donors and to serve on the board.
In more recent years, new programs have been added. For example, the PROVEN program is coordinated by Western Technical College to help inmates develop skills related to a job search and subsequent job. CCFA, Compassionate Community Faith Alliance’s Circles of Support partners with the Jail Chaplain to help support inmates upon release with stable relationships to break the cycle of recidivism. GED courses are also popular with many of the people in the jail.
Today a thirteen member board continues to serve and to support the chaplain in their daily ministry with the inmates. Funds still come from donations and from the La Crosse County budget. And the goal remains the same as expressed in the current mission statement: “To provide an opportunity and create an environment for inmates that awaken, renew and stimulate their spiritual life, thereby promoting behavioral change, social reintegration and personal well-being.”
The La Crosse Jail Ministry's budget covers a full spectrum of staff, materials, and services necessary to meet the needs of inmates. We appreciate all donations and support.
- Chaplain’s Salary
- Communication Needs
- Pencils with Eraser
- Envelopes Embossed with Postage
- Legal Pads
- Manilla Envelopes to hold legal papers
- Plain paper for drawing
- “Comfort” items:
- Reading glasses (from the Dollar store) so they can see to read the donated books and magazines. G
- Glasses repair if prescription glasses become unusable (broke).
- Hair-ties for those with very long hair.
- Personal Care products for those with skin or scalp conditions
- Games that can be put in the blocks (there are twelve cell blocks).
- Haircuts for indigent inmates. A local barber comes in every month and gives us a very good rate. Inmates that have money on their accounts can pay for their own haircuts (as well as most of the things above)
- Upon Release:
- Bus Tokens
- Clothes to wear including coats and shoes or boots
- Care for Belongings:
- An indigent inmate going to prison who is from outside the La Crosse area and has no one to pick up their belongings can have their belongings shipped back to a parent or partner.
- Spiritual Material for all faiths:
- Library Materials:
- Board Games
- Card Games