Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Compassionate volunteers bring Christ’s witness to detention ministry

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the Dec. 2, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

For the vast majority of prison inmates, their time behind bars is a dark and lonely part of their lives, a time when they rarely see a friendly face and feel completely isolated and disconnected from the outside world. Compassionate volunteers give of themselves weekly to bring some of Christ’s light into the inmates’ lives.

The Detention Ministry Office for the Spokane Diocese invites Catholics to respond to Jesus’ call to love one another. Volunteers strive to bring comfort and healing to those serving time, their victims and their families. Priests, deacons, sisters and lay people all provide a variety of much-needed services to inmates. Masses and Communion services, Bible studies, preparation for the sacraments, music ministry, prayer support, one-on-one visitation and advocacy are all ministries volunteers embrace whole-heartedly.

Sister Myrta Iturriaga, a member of the Sisters of Providence, has been actively involved in prison ministry for nearly 20 years and is the Detention Ministry Director for the Diocese of Spokane. Sister Myrta said that though it can be challenging, there is great reward and need for prison ministers – especially those of Catholic faith. Nearly 60 percent of the prison population in Eastern Washington is Catholic, and large numbers of them are Hispanic.

Though inmates are often viewed by society as hopeless causes, the volunteers who visit them say that is simply not the case.

“They’re at a strange point in their lives where they are open to anything anyone wants to give them,” said Sister Madonna Buder of the Sisters for Christian Community. Sister Madonna volunteers weekly in the Spokane County Jail. “They feel neglected. I know my presence means something to them, and they have been very vocal about it.”

“I think every person can change – is redeemable,” said Sister Myrta. “(Inmates) can see the world in a different way. They can change their life.”

Deacon Jack Back began visiting the Washington State Penitentiary with his wife, Thelma, when a friend of theirs was incarcerated in the 1970s. After the friend was released, the couple felt called to continue the ministry. Together, Deacon Jack and Thelma visited inmates in local prisons for 18 years until they were unable to continue. Deacon Back is now an advocate for the power of prison ministry.

“People in there, they have a rough time,” he said. “They need someone from the outside to visit and talk to them and especially to give them courage.”

And despite the problems all the volunteers see in the prison system, they all believe that outreach to inmates can and does make a difference. Each volunteer will willingly share at least one success story. And that is what keeps them going back.

The Diocese of Spokane has over 30 volunteers making weekly visits to seven prisons throughout Eastern Washington. For more information on Detention Ministry or to apply to be a volunteer call (509) 358-7315.

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