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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Thursday, March 14, 2024" "Who you become here is more important than what you do here."

Thursday, March 14, 2024" "Who you become here is more important than what you do here."

I recently asked some of my sisters involved in criminal justice ministry to share reflections on their experience.


All had backgrounds in education and administration before they had chosen to work with those transitioning from prison. Accompaniment of those who had been incarcerated was the context of our sharing.


In our faith sharing, we focused more on how this ministry called them to change, rather than on what they had done. This perspective became the focus of our conversation.


School Sister of Notre Dame, Mary Margaret Johanning had once welcomed me to a new ministry by saying:


"Who you become here is more important than what you do here."

Rose (15 years in that 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 (17 years) shared: "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, she conquered some of her fears and spent 17 years in criminal justice ministry, where she initiated hiring ex-convicts as case workers. When a case worker 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."


"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."

In her recognition of hearing loss in herself, she said, "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."

Reflection by Sister Judith Best

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