Do you, or anyone you know, regularly visit your county jail in a ministry/volunteer capacity? We need your help in getting a core of Catholic volunteers on call for each county, who can visit and pray for new prisoners as the first step in breaking down the culture of isolation and shame that too frequently accompanies even minor offenses. A good place to start is by getting in touch with the jail's chaplaincy office. Even full-time chaplains rely on fundraising for their salary, so allow them some time in them returning your call. Find out what paperwork you have to complete, and start volunteering with something small -- perhaps taking around the book cart, which offers an excellent opportunity to speak and pray with the inmates. Your ultimate goal may eventually become to hold weekly Mass and a Catholic Bible study, but you'll notice a natural resistance to anything but the status quo until you prove you're there for the long hull, and that your intention is to find avenues for pastoral care that show Christ's love for all. Remember, we cannot serve people whose needs we do not know.
The more you get acclimated to visiting the jail, the more you'll begin to want to understand how your county works. Get to know your county offices/administrators -- judges, police commissioner, community corrections, prosecutor, sheriff -- and start learning about various levels of crime --misdemeanors, felonies, etc. -- the network of correctional facilities and how they are related to each other -- juvenile detention, jail, prison -- and release programs -- work release, home detention, parole, probation, community service -- so that you can better understand the stories you'll encounter in the jails. After some time of participation and discernment, your core of volunteers will likely recognize a need to help your faith community more tangibly recognize the ways incarceration and poverty affects the families of your parish, and how you are all being called to respond. This will all come about through entering into right relationship with those affected by the issue, and inviting their participation and the talents of the community. Perhaps you will feel called toward focusing in on a specific gap in the system, like providing assistance for caretakers of the children of the incarcerated, helping recently-released ex-offenders with transportation to church on Sunday, or creating an outreach for fatherless homes.
Besides offering a crash course in law, sociology, psychology, criminal justice, and local government, involvement in jail ministry opens prime opportunities for loving more fully and recognizing our neighbor in all. The Archdiocese is here to support you as you navigate these various levels of gestation as a team, helping all Catholics to realize the fruits of empathizing with all walks of life, and applying our faith into more active listening, wider imagination, and more participatory kinship with our brothers and sisters involved in the crueler realities of the world.