President John Tomandl’s Letter– April 2019

“I Have Carved You on the Palm of My Hand”

Last year, President O’Dell wrote, “If we take a moment to look around us it will not take long for us to observe the “craziness” of the world.  The sectarian spirit (party spirit) is oh so common and we human beings somehow feel compelled to add our two-cents to this view or that one.  This plays into the hand of a darker spirit that drives a wedge between men.  Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘… a house divided against itself cannot stand.’”

We (US) must not be swayed by the influences of evil … the temptation to despair is strong and the goal of democracy is always far off (seemingly).  Those in the work of incarceration in the criminal justice system are especially tempted to become jaded or despair and often can react in ways that play into the plan of evil.  The chaplain and religious volunteer is often alone in voicing encouragement and standing for mercy, forgiveness and faith.  The entire correctional community (security and civilian as well as administration and agency leadership) can become defiant in the face of evil’s onslaught trying to get into the hearts of those hired and sworn to protect and ensure just treatment of those who have been incarcerated with the intent to re-habilitate and return good citizen’s to society.

For the inmate, the Chaplain and religious volunteer is often left to try to introduce hope to people who have lost hope and encourage them to believe in a God of mercy and forgiveness that has had no mercy on them, and they experience no forgiveness of their understandable resentments and fears.  In fact, frequently the Chaplains and volunteers face resentment from staff members who see them as ‘inmate lovers’ and/or ‘do gooders’ who waste their time on inmates and perpetrators of crimes instead of where they perceive the efforts should rightly be directed: to the victims of crime.

For the staff, Chaplains can often be in the middle of families (both inmate and staff), the security staff and administration and sometimes the Chaplain’s own faith community.  Each one, understandably, wants certain outcomes in the world of corrections.  The Chaplains are often the ones who have to find a way to maintain security, bring hope to the hopeless, give reassurance to the fearful, assure the administration that they will let them know of any ‘rumblings’, and satisfy their endorsing authority that they are bringing an orthodox view point to the inmates.

When I began my career, the first thing that I noticed was that the atmosphere of the facility often invaded people’s thinking … people who you would meet and interact with outside, were different inside.  Some of that can certainly be due to the need for increased awareness but some of it is clearly due to the influence of truly evil forces that everyday try to unhinge and upset the environment.  And I am not necessarily trying to say that spiritual forces are at work, though that is the nature of my belief system and my faith, but evil also in the mental illness that is wide spread, emotional instability and the stress on the work force.

One of the most important assets to a correctional facility is the chaplain and the religious volunteers.  Regardless of any individual’s view of religion or the spiritual elements of life, the moral value, the code of conduct and the justice of surrendering one’s present to the good of the future, are common themes of all major (and most minor) religious communities.  And we are never alone!  The Tora in the Book of Isiah has the words of hope that God has your back

– Is 49 [I have carved you on the palm of My hand]