Conference to buoy ministry behind bars

CNS Photo by Karen Callaway, Northwest Indiana Catholic
A chaplain distributed Communion to a death-row inmate at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Ind. A conference for those interested in ministering to people in prisons or recently released is planned March 6.

For the past seven years individuals concerned about the well being of men and women affected by incarceration have gathered at the “Reaching Individuals: Behind and Beyond the Bars” conference.

The event — sponsored by Catholic Charities of Louisville, Mission Behind Bars and Beyond and the National Benevolent Association — will take place again this year from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 6 at Hotel Louisville, 120 W. Broadway.

The day will include a keynote address by Dale Recinella, a national Catholic author and speaker who’s ministered to inmates on death row.

Cheri Hall — who serves as prison, jail and re-entry coordinator for Catholic Charities of Louisville and an organizer of the event — said the conference is open to everyone, including those who work in the jail and prison systems and family members of incarcerated people.

It’s also open to anyone who wants to learn more about this ministry, which involves ministry to people behind bars as well as ministry with people re-entering the community after incarceration.

Hall said the conference aims to shed light on issues related to incarceration — including the challenges of re-entering the community. It also aims to help people learn how to advocate for inmates, she said.

Prison and jail ministry in the archdiocese takes many forms.

Hall, a member of Holy Spirit Church, and about 12 other individuals minister to women at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley, Ky. Among the ministers, who provide weekly Scripture study, are Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Susan Gatz and Marian Stenken and Ursuline Sisters of Louisville Ruth Ann Haunz and Carol Curtis.

The Archdiocese of Louisville Family Ministries Office offers jail ministry training for individuals interested in ministering to incarcerated men and women.

Deacon Stephen Marks also leads a group that offers a Communion service to men and women in the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections.

About 120 people attended the conference last year and Hall is hoping for at least that if not a larger turnout this year, she said.

Hall was a part of the group seven years ago that came up with the idea for the conference. Organizers wanted to bring awareness to issues facing incarcerated individuals, including the barriers they face when re-entering their communities.

“We wanted to bring people together to make them aware that people don’t stay in prison,” said Hall. There’s still a lot to do, but some things have changed, she noted.

“What I see now is more people being aware of the need for change. There’s a shifting of people working in the system who realize they have to do things differently, but there’s still the struggle with the old mindset,” said Hall. “Somebody does something wrong, you lock them away and forget about it. We can no longer accept that.”

The Kentucky Department of Corrections now has a division of reentry services which Hall said is a step in the right direction.
“It means they can start planning to make it a more seamless reentry into the community,” she said.

Hall believes inmates need a “more holistic approach” to reentry.

“Look at the person, deal with their issues and make them aware of their place in society, not hold them bound to something they did that might have been a one-time event,” said Hall.

The cost of the conference is $20 and includes lunch.

It will include workshops on the following topics:

  • What we need to know about trauma.
  • The psychological effects of incarceration.
  • Sex offenses — policy and treatment.
  • Update on criminal justice reform legislation in Kentucky.

The deadline to register is Feb. 25. For more information and to register, visit

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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