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Prison Ministry

Prison MinistryTo The Least, Last, Lost, and Lonely…

Our service at St. Joseph is directed to the Trousdale Turner Correctional Complex (TTCC) in Hartsville, Tennessee and the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility (DNSF) here in Nashville, which although the word "prison" is not in its' title, is a prison.  It is a medium to high security hospital for ailing inmates that are sent there from any of the other Tennessee state prisons. They are all felons who are in need of treatment for many different types of illnesses. I continue to maintain a correspondence with about seven inmates at this institution. Deacon Rock Hasenberg is at the helm in at this institution, since I retired from service at that prison after almost 20 years of service. 

TTCC  in Hartsville, Trousdale County, Tennessee is about 45 miles from St. Joseph Church. It is the newest prison we serve. The “we” is Deacon James Booth and myself, Deacon ted Welsh. Deacon James serves several other prisons, but at Trousdale-Turner it’s a partnership. TTCC is the newest prison in the Tennesse Department of Corrections (TDOC) system and is run by contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The prison took in its first inmates on January 7th this year and has a capacity for 2100 inmates which will make it the largest state institution when filled.

We began planning in August this year for our first religious services which were held on August 30th. We decided to make the services ecumenical so that many of the non-Catholic inmates could attend. Our intention was and is to expose these men to various articles of the Catholic Faith as we explore the Scripture readings with the hope that upon presenting the truths of the Faith and seeing its simplicity, symmetry, and beauty, they might want to dig deeper and explore these many mysteries which would be presented during our service.

And so our communion service, which is essentially a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of the pre-consecrated hosts (Holy Communion which was taken by the deacon from the tabernacle and brought to the prison) is probably the closest thing to a Catholic Mass that most of them ever may attend. We use the preceding Sunday readings of the Mass, and then, distribute the Holy Eucharist to the Catholics in attendance. 

The very important change we made a few years ago at DSNF was to allow for 30 minutes of fellowship before the service so that the inmates get a chance to form a community (assembly). Here, they have the chance to get to know other inmates and learn a little bit about their struggles in the journey to holiness. We also try to have a bit of fellowship at the end of the service. A lot of times the men will want to talk privately with one of the ministers about any number of varying concerns, and many times we’re able to help. The problems may range from finding a halfway (transitional) house for them to stay upon parole, or making sure the paperwork for the parole hearing has in its file a letter of recommendation. It may also have something to do with the guilt or shame that accompanies incarceration, or maybe helping someone find a loved one whose whereabouts are no longer known. It may be they may need some help with some funds for things like toiletries or just some new socks. If they don’t have a job, and they have no help from relatives or friends, this is where we can provide some aid. 

Our fund for this help that we offer and the books and instructional materials that we provide come from the generous donations our benefactors provide. Much of the money goes to help the inmates with program fees to get into a transitional house after they are paroled. So many of them – almost 85% - have no jobs while in prison, and so they have no funds to use for their sustenance once they are released into the free world. This problem can be compounded when they have been deserted by family, friends, relatives, wives, and children. Some do get help from other sources, but the majority do not. 

Several of the books we use are:

1) The Missionary’s Catechism by Russell Ford, a convert to Catholicism and a former 20-year inmate in the Alabama prison system. Russell’s book explains the Faith in a very understandable fashion, especially for inmates;
2) Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankyl, M.D., who survived a 4-year stint in a concentration camp. Among many things, his hardships make the men realize how easy today’s inmates have it compared to what he went through; 
3) When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose 5 year old son was diagnosed with progeria, which “is an extremely rare, progressive genetic disorder that causes children to age rapidly (Mayo Clinic). It helps many to understand “why stuff happens” and what we can do about it.
In an effort, as futile and grandiose as it may appear, to make prisons into monasteries, we have instituted a religious order for the inmates who are Christians. The order is the Order of St. Moses the Black (O.S.M.B.). St. Moses (c. A.D. 405) was a thief, a marauder, and a gangster who became a monk.

The order is purely voluntary, but the requirements are these


1) Obedience: Monks must be first of all obedient to the Rule. 
2) Obedient to all lawful authority. 
3) A Monk’s prayer life is supremely rooted in the practice of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (Divine Office). This is the prayer life of the Church, and all of us are tied to the Church, The Body of Christ.
3a) It is strongly encouraged that the Monks pray the Holy Rosary once a day and the Jesus Prayer as private devotions which tune the Christian psyche to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit. This helps pave the road to holiness. These prayers can be prayed at any time.
4) To serve God by serving others in need.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

The Corporal Works of Mercy 

· Feed the hungry 
· Give drink to the thirsty 
· Clothe the naked 
· Shelter the homeless 
· Visit the sick 
· Visit the imprisoned 
· Bury the dead 

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

· Admonish the sinner 
· Instruct the ignorant (This and the next work are extremely pertinent categories today, when so many people are confused by what the Church teaches on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc.) 
· Counsel the doubtful 
· Comfort the sorrowful 
· Bear wrongs patiently 
· Forgive all injuries 
· Pray for the living and the dead 

We have about 4 men studying to become Catholics at this time – 2 at Northwest Correctional Complex, 1 at DeBerry, and 1 at Trousdale. We maintain a correspondence with them and see to it that their needs for instruction materials are met.

The order’s size at this point is very small; we have about 3 members total at this time in two different prisons, but we have about 3 novices in formation. And now, we have new mission territory opening up at TTCC.

The whole thing is in the hands of the Holy Spirit under the patronage of St. Moses the Black. We ask for your prayers. St. Moses the Black, pray for us, and Mary, you who are highly favored and Mother of my Lord, pray for us

Contact Deacon Ted for more information or if you would would like to help in some way!