I have been doing ministry here at FCI Dublin since this past January after having transitioned from ten years serving as an active duty Army chaplain, and also having served as a chaplain at the Veterans Administration prior to accepting my new position with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
FCI Dublin is a low security women’s prison and houses women at the FCI and at a Camp adjacent to the complex. I have enjoyed my time serving on the chaplaincy staff and have had many opportunities to minister to many inmates who wish to know Christ and to grow spiritually.
This year, many women have made professions of faith in Christ while many others have rededicated their lives to Christ, and are making efforts to grow spiritually through discipleship programs that we offer here at the chapel.
While ministry here at the chapel has been great there are also many challenges that are very common within a prison environment. Most of the women here are pretty broken and are victims themselves of many abuses and forms of trauma from their own pasts, and you can clearly see vulnerability in them when you interface with them. These are offenders who have committed crimes that represent the full spectrum of our society, such as murder, all forms of exploitation crimes against children, and all forms of trafficking, and money crimes. The Meth and Heroin epidemic is well represented here, and not just the abuse aspect but the lucrative enterprise connected to it as well.
One of the common threads with all these women is a reality that many have a distorted concept about life, God, love, and relationships that are often accompanied by poor coping abilities, a lack of identity, poor boundaries, limited life skills, and poor problem-solving abilities. Manipulation is a survival skill most have relied on to stay alive and provide for their needs. Many lack a foundation in their lives and are vulnerable.
In just this year, I have taught four iterations of the Experiencing God class in which over 75 women have attended. In addition, I have taught a “Safe People” class based off the authors who wrote the Boundaries series. Over 70 women have attended this class and have seen for themselves the potential for healing, growth, recovery, and opportunity to build a much needed foundation in their lives that has Christ as the cornerstone in it.
I have worked with several women one-on-one in counseling and a few of them come to mind as far as the progress I see them making in their relationship with God. I worked with Laura since this past Spring. She comes from a background of drug addiction and a life of crime as a result of it. She is seeking to know God and to build the things of God into her life, with the desire to become a part of a supportive church community once she is out of prison. I have seen her go through a series of ups and downs, as well as moments where she doesn’t seem to believe that her life will ever become what she knows God can make it to be for her. I have found with Laura that discipleship is not easy work and requires great patience and flexibility to walk with someone like her through the ebb and flow. I have my doubts about her from time to time because I don’t always see her following through as she should but I am prayerful that God will help her to develop the kind of consistency and stability in her life that will help her to believe in what God can and wants to be in her life.
I think of Shawn, who came from a past I would characterize as very dysfunctional and warped. She is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. She had several abortions as a teenage girl and has never known what a loving and functional relationship is, nor has anyone in her life ever modeled anything close to it. She came to me extremely broken with a longing for help. Shawn has attended and completed AA and other related courses over the years. She has been incarcerated several times over the past 20 years of her life, from county to State, and now to Federal. Her path has been littered with the drugs and abusive relationships…one after another. I am meeting with her weekly now for pastoral counseling and will be enrolling her into Experiencing God and Safe People as a way of offering her tools to help her build a foundation in her life, and prayerfully to help her come to know Christ in a way she never has before.
Lastly, I think of Andrea, who is about to be released from prison in January. She is a young woman who will be going back to her hometown to be with her young kids with the hopes of moving away from the community she grew up in that would be characterized best as violent crime and drugs. She came to me asking me to please help her find a better way, and she doesn’t want to keep repeating the same patterns that have landed her in jail over and over again through the years. Andrea is Roman Catholic and comes to Mass every Sunday and is trying to connect with God and she always makes a point of just saying hi to me after Mass. The bottom line with all these women is the reality that while I can’t fix their problems I am here to walk with them.
The roads many of these women walk are paved with uncertainty and doubt. Recidivism is a common reality due to a repeated cycle of poor choices. On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect anyone here to grind it out working part time at Applebee’s for tips once they’re out. This won’t pay the bills and they know it; which is why many take the risk of going back to the world of drugs and crime. Many only have a GED and little job experience and rely on family and friends for support.
Ministry here at the chapel is never without opportunity and it is as active as I have ever seen it in my 24 years of ministry. It truly is a calling to work with inmates, many who desperately need God’s intervention and work in their lives. To be used by Him as His vessel to bring the hope of the gospel and the power of salvation is the most profound thing I have seen in my year working at FCI Dublin. And the opportunity to disciple and mentor these women is vital in a way I have never seen anywhere else in ministry.
While not every woman locked up here wants God in her life, those that do want to be challenged, to be held accountable, and told the truth about their lives, with no sugar coating whatsoever. This is part of what I love the most about ministry here; women are hungry for God and they want everything you can give them. Many people in their life have given up on them. They need to know more than anything else that God hasn’t given up on them, and they need to know that their chaplain hasn’t either.
Pray for Chaplain Ted as he ministers to his inmates. Ask God to guide him, protect him, and lead him to those who need a shepherd who genuinely cares for their souls and their lives. For more stories of CBAmerica chaplains ministering in needy spaces, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.