I like to bring simple card-making supplies into the secure unit of the Edmonton Institution for Women. The inmates enjoy the chance to be creative but, more than that, they crave an opportunity to make something to send to family on the outside. Life stories bubble up as they write in the cards, and I listen.
'I left the jail one Monday morning last month feeling a heaviness that I have not felt in some time.' (Image by Fifaliana Joy/Pixabay)
I left the jail one Monday morning last month feeling a heaviness that I have not felt in some time.
I don’t go there each Monday with some big agenda—I’m not there to reform or convert or instruct, but to listen, to pray, to encourage. But most days, I get a glimpse of goodness through a conversation, a smile, a new insight into the human heart and the human predicament.
Not that day, though.
It has been 30 years since Ed Olfert first set foot in the federal penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask., but he wasn’t there to serve time!
Every month, several women from Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg go to jail. But unlike the women they meet with behind bars, they get to walk out of the barbed wire fences and go safely to their homes at the end of the night.
“My members are rapists, kidnappers, murders and fraudsters—all washed by the blood of Jesus our Lord,” says Pastor Ignacio Chamorro Ramírez.
Chamorro is director of an integrated transformation program and pastor of La Libertad (Freedom) Church in Paraguay’s overcrowded Tacumbú national penitentiary. But he was once a prisoner like the men he serves.
Seven years ago, two friends and I from Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., agreed to begin a book club with inmates in the local Grand Valley Institution for Women, a federal prison.
“As part of my probation conditions, I have to stay away from places where there are families,” says Joe Patterson, “so that made finding a church hard.”