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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

332 "We do the little things that make folks know they're human" Be Sensational!

Day 332: February 11th, 2021

School Sisters of Notre Dame reflect on their prison ministry

"One day I had a little basket on my desk; one York mint was left and I offered it to a client who had just been released from prison. He enjoyed it and then with tears in his eyes said, 'I had forgotten people could be kind.' "

"Another man newly released from prison was waiting in the courtyard, sitting at a table. When she asked how she could help, he responded, "I'm looking at the trees. How wonderful to see trees and feel the breeze!"

"We do the little things that make folks know

they're human"

School Sisters of Notre Dame involved in criminal justice ministry shared reflections on their experience, including, from left: Srs. Mildred Loddeke, Geraldine Neier, Sharon Rose Terbrock, Carleen Reck and Elaine AuBuchon. (Photo by Judith Best)

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are on the front lines of the struggle to reintegrate women and men who have been incarcerated. They listen, show kindness and plan a future for individuals who have been locked away from society.

Why do they do it?

"It's all about the mission of Jesus," Geraldine said with conviction. "Visit prisoners, clothe the naked

and feed the hungry … this is what we do."

"We all have a limited time to carry out the mission of Jesus. So make the most of the time we have by helping others get a second chance at life."

Rose (15 years in prison ministry) said: "When I listened to stories of the crimes an inmate suffered before committing a crime himself, I began to understand how hurt begets hurt. And I am careful of the hurt I've received, knowing my hurt can beget hurt."

Carleen: "I wasn't sure my claustrophobia would allow me to visit prisoners. To test my strength, I asked to visit the St. Louis Work House to see if I could handle the clanging of gates and waiting for the next one and being caged in."

Meeting inmates and learning from their hope, Carleen conquered some of her fears and spent 17 years in criminal justice ministry, where she initiated hiring ex-convicts as caseworkers. When a caseworker sat down to interview a new client and the man said, "You don't know what it's like to be leaving prison," the caseworker surprised him by sharing his story.

Geraldine (11 years) told of meeting someone who needed a bus ticket to Columbia, Missouri, and when he received it, his comment was: "I've got to make it right this time."

"Sometimes the simple gift of a backpack, with a toothbrush, and other essential items, valued at $10, was a lifeline for a few days. Knowing that he could find help in the midst of transitioning from prison life meant much."

As our faith-sharing continued Elaine (17 years) said she was "awakened" to a whole new world and gave these examples:

"I didn't know people that didn't eat every day."

"When taking a woman shopping for kitchen supplies, I suggested a new coffee pot; later I realized the woman didn't have enough money to buy coffee. I kept in touch with this single mom who now has raised two boys and has a full-time job with health benefits."

She rejoiced with Ron who has recently been told he will be released from prison after serving 33 years; he had been convicted as a juvenile. His desire to change his life was evident, and she noted he had been in her meditation class for five years.

Millie (6 years) said: "My journey with people in prison began with participation in Residents Encounter Christ retreats for both men and women." Tears accompanied her sharing of memories as she recalled some of her family members who would make racial comments when she was a child. Later she recognized the institutional racism of her small town.

Eventually she became a receptionist at Criminal Justice Ministry, a re-entry nonprofit in St. Louis, and, even though an introvert, learned to accept and trust those she met. As she grew in her respect for others, she felt joy in meeting them. "I often learned from listening to former inmates who would mentor one another. One comment touched me deeply:

'I made up my mind never to go to prison again.'

Sister Sharon says, "Who I've become because of volunteering at Criminal Justice Ministry includes:

I'm a better listener; talking less and listening more.

I allow myself to be touched by those who share their vulnerability so honestly.

Recognizing that our basic needs are the same: a desire for respect, love and forgiveness. Saying with deep feeling, "There, but for the grace of God go I."

In her farewell address after spending17 years working for those imprisoned, Sister Carleen told a story.

"When I was 4 years old, my mother sent me to our neighborhood grocery for a loaf of bread. I picked up the loaf of bread and while waiting to be checked out — tried to read anything I could — not knowing any hard words but could recognize the word 'free,' on a small box of raisins, so I put the box in my pocket and paid for the bread."

"By the time I reached home, the grocer had phoned my mother, saying that I had stolen raisins. When I pulled out the box and showed her the word 'free,' that's when she taught me the next word, 'recipes,' followed by an address to request free recipes. Fortunately, I could return the raisins, explaining my reading limitations, and that was the end."

Carleen continues, "It was my first offense, but some people are remembered for the worst thing they've done and never remembered for anything they did right." She concluded by saying:

"Working with others we try to "reflect another's worth to them, to help them reach their full potential."

This is the meaning of education to School Sisters of Notre Dame; it is our small gift to those incarcerated. "Who" we've become is one who realizes our shared humanity with the incarcerated body of Christ.

Reflection excerpted from an article by Sister Judith Best, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, is the coordinator of and gives presentations on the heritage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She is also exploring evolution as the bridge between science and religion.





Eastern guard tower

glints in sunset; convicts rest

like lizards on rocks.


The piano man

is stingy, at 3 A.M.

his songs drop like plum.


Morning sun slants cell.

Drunks stagger like cripple flies

On jailhouse floor.


To write a blues song

is to regiment riots

and pluck gems from graves.


A bare pecan tree

slips a pencil shadow down

a moonlit snow slope.


The falling snow flakes

Cannot blunt the hard aches nor

Match the steel stillness.


Under moon shadows

A tall boy flashes knife and

Slices star bright ice.


In the August grass

Struck by the last rays of sun

The cracked teacup screams.


Making jazz swing in

Seventeen syllables AIN’T

No square poet’s job.


Matthew West - Forgiveness

Tim McGraw - Humble And Kind (Official Video)

Jason Mraz - Love Is Still The Answer

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