Margaret Graziano

Our chaplaincy program at the Lane County Jail has many aspects to it. As chaplain, I oversee approximately 25 volunteers, who perform varied services for the inmates. They include 13 separate Bible studies at the jail every Thursday evening and two to three Sunday services each week. Also, we do Sunday services at the Community Corrections Center and the Forest Work Camp. In addition, I invite outside groups from the community to come in and do special concerts at Easter and Christmas.

My duties also include providing inmates with Christian books, Bibles, Bible studies, and other literature to help them grow spiritually. I do a lot of counseling with the inmates. As a result of this, I often refer inmates to outside contacts who may be able to assist them with clothes, housing, and drug or alcohol treatment. Also, I often refer them to local churches where they can continue their spiritual growth.

Before I became involved as chaplain in January of 1993, I began working in the jail as a volunteer in 1976. To know a bit about how that occurred may lead to a better understanding of what I do now. It all started after a couple of summers working at MacClaren School for Boys in Woodburn, Oregon. I found that I really enjoyed working with "at-risk" kids from ages 12 to 18. These young men were in trouble with the law and some were considered incorrigible. Upon returning to Eugene after my innovative teaching with other creative instructors, I walked past the jail one day and was curious as to what was happening inside. The young men I had worked with could possibly end up here if they did not change their ways and their values.

After writing the sheriff and asking for a tour of the jail, I received a call from a young lady at the university who was interested in starting a volunteer program at the jail. It was an invitation to attend a luncheon with staff from the jail and others interested in getting involved. During the luncheon, the question was asked: "If you were a volunteer at the jail, what would you do?" My answer was, "I would like to see programs developed that would focus on spirituality, music, art, and other activities that would lift the spirit," and I added, "I can teach anyone to read." It did not take the organizers of the meeting very long to set up a time when we could tour the jail and talk to the inmates concerning their interests in programming. Their response was "anything to relieve our boredom." I started out a week later teaching art to the women. An evening class was the best time, since I was teaching at St. Mary’s Upper School during the day. Not long after, I offered that enrichment to the men. It was a great outlet!

Soon a dayroom was proposed and after getting approval from the captain, I negotiated with St. Vincent de Paul to obtain a rug, some comfortable chairs, and other items. Later we obtained a Ping-Pong table, several games, guitars, and an upright piano. After the details of security were established, the inmates were allowed to leave their housing units and cells to participate in leisure awareness groups, cooking classes, and other planned activities. Adequate space allowed for the development of a library, also. Lane Community College built the shelves and the community was told of the need for books and magazines. Contributions for the library consistently came in and still do. Volunteers have managed the library very efficiently since its early beginnings. Education classes were already well established and tutors assisted that program, giving students the opportunity of individualized instruction.

The second floor continued to be expanded into a cafeteria. Colorful tables and chairs enhanced the dining area and again a change was made from eating in their living quarters to a more adequate space. There were some fears the first day the cafeteria was initiated. Captain Ben Sunderland, the kitchen staff, deputies, and I served the inmates and all went well.

In 1979, 20 inmates were motivated in the art class to create a mural depicting mankind from the Stone Age to the Space Age. This activity was intended for therapeutic and recreational reasons and also to beautify a large blank wall. It was difficult to have people understand the objectives and the importance of such an activity, but , after building their confidence, they supported the idea. Breaking down resistance and developing programs take time and persistence. The opportunity to work well with the administration and the staff was quite essential and very helpful in continuing our objectives.

In addition to my weekly programs in leisure awareness and art, I continue to respond to inmate requests. Part of the growth in responsibility in accomplished by not doing for people what they can do for themselves. In other words, "not enabling."

Because of my Assistant Volunteer Coordinator position, I have planned training sessions and organized various other services in the jail. As a certified Catholic Chaplain in January of 1993, I kept some of my responsibilities defined by human needs. Among these are letter pickups with insufficient postage, reading glasses, forms such as tax papers, information concerning Social Security, disability, and child support payments. Connecting with family members, improving relationships, and assisting with transition needs such as housing, job search, clothing, or suitable treatment centers are requested. Being in contact with other staff members and effectively communicating with the various departments are of great importance to me. These include the administration, the deputies, the psychologist, medical and mental health staff, community services, and programs among others. Sharing insights for particular cases and working as a team bring better results. In time of crisis, we combine our expertise and handle situations for the best interest of the client.

The role of the chaplain is a ministry of presence and giving attention to the spiritual dimension. Included are times for direct ministry to individuals for assistance through grieving processes and other personal concerns. We listen to the angry, the frightened, the lonely, the poor, those who are hurting in one way or another. It may be a long session or a brief encounter. Either is an opportunity for genuine human contact. Pastoral counseling addresses multiple issues of the inmates and may bring temporary relief. Time in jail changes lives for the better or for worse. A jail chaplain can help tip the scales in a positive direction by a simple message, "God Loves You." One must remember that no matter the crime, human dignity has not been forfeited. To recognize and to respect each person is essential.

As in any ministry, our goal is not to do it all by ourselves! We invite the community to join with us and many volunteers assist us with worship and visiting. Our values and beliefs have guided us. We support crime prevention programs and inmate rehabilitation through spiritual, educational, and vocational programs, which may help ex-offenders avoid returning to jail. Group worship, scripture study, and preparation for the sacraments are important facets of our work. Our challenge is to bring hope and light into darkness. As James Gondles, Jr., Executive Director of ACA, says, "You do the best you can for everyone concerned."

A jail chaplain learns to work in a restrictive environment and is sensitive to security issues. That is the number one requirement and all else is secondary. To work and function under stress is learned and practiced. This personal strength comes through prayer and meditation. Taking steps to balance one’s personal life of work and play is a help. A sensitivity to all races regardless of background and personal history is needed. A basic understanding and appreciation of other faith groups is an ecumenical approach. When I get a request from a Jewish inmate for a rabbi to visit, I call and the rabbi comes. Each person has a right to worship in his/her own belief system. Usually the person best suited to assist is the minister or pastor of that particular faith. They are the experts in that regard.

As Chair of the Certification Committee of ACCA (American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association), I believe there is a level of competency needed for chaplains working in the correctional system. Included are personal, theological, and professional competencies. A deep commitment to those we work with, evidence of personal integrity, and self-reflection are qualities of personal competence. Strength to work under stress and to cope with crisis is also important. To be aware of gospel values of hope, trust, and forgiveness is essential. Also, to have firm grasp of the theological issues relating to the correctional setting such a spirituality, scriptures, liturgy, and ethics is among the expectations of theological competence. Professional competence includes pastoral care skills and an understanding of the role of chaplaincy. Other abilities to strive for a sensitivity, communication skills, and an adaptation for presiding, organizing, and facilitating worship and religious activity.

Lifelong learning and updating are essential in this field. We can continue our growth by learning more about the factors involved in the emergence of behavioral problems. Psychosocial dynamics and cultural and ethnic differences affect ministerial practices in jail settings. It is important to update consistently through seminars, conferences, and programs that especially address these matters.

In conclusion, let us listen to what other jail chaplains have said about their special ministry.

"I see the people in jail as any other human being. None of us are perfect and we all have our faults—some big and some not so big. As St. Paul says, "There but for the grace of God go I."

"I bring the sacrament to the people and try to tell them that God’s love is greater than any sin or evil that we can commit. God always forgives us if we are sorry and ask for his forgiveness."

"At times, we have to be very flexible with our schedules."

"I show enthusiasm and service in my work, along with good judgment."

"I deal effectively with all levels of individuals on a daily basis. My pleasant personality is certainly a plus-factor for me."

"I am called upon to serve the needs of God’s people so that they can take their rightful place in their own faith-community and in society."

"Helping to build peace—inner personal peace as well as peace among one another is a goal for me."

"I believe ‘no one is an island.’ I need others to help me develop, affirm, and challenge my gifts."

"Through my special training, I have come to be more present to people, to be a better listener, to listen to my heart, and to walk with a person in their sandals."

"I minister to each person in a particular way, stemming from my sensitivity to his/her uniqueness, need, and personality."

"This is my stance—to be a catalyst for personal change and growth and to open up to them a new way to view themselves and to live life."

"I try to help build a support system—few can do it alone."

"The more I am involved, the more I see people crying out for healing. The good news is that God is a loving God and want us to heal people."

"The inmate population fares better for a chaplain’s presence."

"I help make the spiritual experience a life-giving one."

"Noting injustices and letting them be known to the proper person is one of my objectives."

"My idea of an ideal jail chaplain is one who is flexible in the face of constant change, can function in stressful situations, has the ability to work collaboratively, and is a compassionate and faith-filled minister to the imprisoned."

If you have further interest in Standards for Certification, they can be obtained from:

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