By Sam Schloemer, Guest Contributor
I once had a neighbor who was irritated that I would visit and take cookies to the men incarcerated at Lebanon Correctional Institute.
I wonder what he would say if he knew I was now visiting men on Death Row at Chillicothe Correction Institute.
My friendship with men in prison began in 2000 as I continued to work to reduce my tendency toward being judgmental. You see, I was very indifferent to people who looked, dressed, spoke, drove different cars than me, lived in different kinds of houses where they were raising their kids differently than me. I could out-judge anyone. I was good at it. BUT I didn’t like the way I felt inside.
Becoming a Kairos Prison Ministry volunteer in 2002 was a continuation of my working with my spiritual director in helping to bring about some changes in myself.
It worked. This was a once in a lifetime experience in that I was visiting with men who, by many standards, are society’s outcasts. I was hoping that if I could hold the hands of men in prison and pray with them that I could look at people out on the street a little differently. Just as Kairos has changed the lives of many incarcerated men and women, and other volunteers, it’s been a life changing experience for me. I know I am doing something good for others.
With some of the men inside the prison, we become good friends and in many instances their family. One of the inevitable things of being incarcerated is the loss of family, even their parents, their children, siblings, friends. It’s tragic. So, the men are ever so thankful for our visits, letters and our friendships. It becomes evident when we walk in to visit, they are beaming, all smiles with open arms waiting for a hug.
As caregivers, we are thanked many times for what we give. But as we all come to find out, we receive so much back. These experiences have given me much to reflect on and to be thankful for. Knowing that the men trust me has given me great consolation because prison systems are loaded with bureaucrats and people who don’t care, because “those people” are prisoners.
In summary, being involved is a commitment to take up the towel and become a servant in union with Christ. Serve with humility, without concern for results and recognition. Not too many people who write or visit the men and women in prison will make the 6 or 11 pm news, but that’s not why I do it.
“Life is short, so forgive quickly. Believe slowly. Love truly. Laugh
uncontrollably. Never regret anything that makes you happy. And have a wonderful journey.”
I’ve been on a great journey.
Someone on Ohio’s Death Row is waiting for YOU to write them! During this time of social distancing, entering into a pen pal relationship is a great way to connect, learn, and affirm one another’s humanity. To be matched with your pen pal and/or learn more about the process, contact Jessie@IJPCcincinnati.org.