Word One

Prison Ministry a Job That Makes Sense

When the late Father Larry Craig served for a time as chaplain of the Cook County (Illinois) Juvenile Detention Center, he became aware of how the criminal justice system impacts prisoners and their families. That led to his founding of Kolbe House, a prison ministry that tries to bring good outcomes to bad beginnings.

Father Craig’s obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times quoted a characteristic saying, “No one is 100 percent clean and no one is 100 percent dirty.”

Father Craig pointed out that many prisoners go to jail at young ages. When they come out after five or ten years, they’re no better prepared for life on the outside than they were in the first place. Meanwhile the world has moved on at blinding speed, making reentry even more difficult.

Prisons have become a multibillion dollar industry, creating economic pressures to lock up more people for longer terms. People, Father Craig thought, are too quick to sort themselves into categories of good and bad, saved and unsaved.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that because of the boom in prison population there are now 640,000 ex-felons released from prison each year. Their former jobs, homes and possessions are long gone. Family relationships have frayed. Ways to combat recidivism, such as drug treatment and job training, are still merely experimental. More than half of those released will wind up back in prison.

Asked about the hardships of prison ministry, Father Craig once said in an interview with People’s Tribune: “We do this because we have a sure sense that it’s right. And there aren’t a whole lot of jobs in life that give you that sense. If you believe in the Gospel, the Gospel clearly tells you where to be.”

This article appeared in the October 2006 (Volume 34, Number 4) issue of Word One.

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