By Debra Weed
The first time I walked into the San Jose Main Jail, I was a bit unsettled. I had completed the training the Diocese provided and navigated the security clearance process. Now I was about to join a seasoned jail minister to shadow their communion service.
As it turned out, what I experienced with the inmates that day was much more than I expected; the Holy Spirit was so present.
I came to this ministry many years after the seed was planted in me to work with inmates. About 15 years ago, I heard a parishioner at St Martin of Tours speak about teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to inmates in the San Jose jails. I was impressed and intrigued. It made me wonder what an amazing feeling it must be to minister to our incarcerated brothers and sisters. I found myself thinking about it many times over the years.
In 2015, after joining the Companions in Ignatian Service and Spirituality program, I met several other companions who volunteered with the Diocesan Detention Ministry Program. Talking with them and hearing their experiences gave me the confidence to contact the Diocese and inquire about the ministry. I’ve never looked back.
Two or three times a week, I have the privilege of spending time in either the San Jose Main Jail or Elmwood Correctional Facility with men and women who long to know that God has not forgotten them. Some days, I share the gospel and a Communion service with a group of inmates. Other days I lead a Bible study. And, some days, I fill requests for Bibles, rosaries, or other Catholic materials; or I meet with an inmate to offer a blessing.
There are very few inmate encounters that do not leave me feeling a strong sense of God’s love. We share our struggles and learn from each other. We show compassion to one another. And through all of these experiences, we reflect to each other the light of the Christ.
While we are not able to visit inmates at this time, we can pray for them. This Lent, let us prayerfully reflect on the words of Hebrews 13:3, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”