People live behind those bars
Prison ministry recognizes the good in the bad
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Eleven members of the diocesan prison ministry group brought a special holiday gift to a small gathering of inmates at the Green Bay Correctional Institution--their time. The group shared prayers, songs and stories with the men in celebration of Christmas.
"It went marvelously well," said Mary Fairbanks of Green Bay. "They shared some things about their own Christmas memories. They are a special group. They accept where they are and are grateful that people care about them."
Fairbanks, who moved to Wisconsin from California 12 years ago, visits the prison weekly as part of a Renew group.
"I've been coming every Tuesday for a little over a year now," she said. "From where I live, when I would go anywhere I would pass the prison. You can't help but think that there are people in there and be concerned about them, so I became involved."
The inmates are not the only ones who benefit from the ministry, added Fairbanks.
"The Renew program is wonderful," she said. "They bring their Bibles and we talk about what the readings mean to us. I get as much out of it as they do. They are always so welcoming and always thankful."
The Christmas gathering was Karen Bowman-Dillenburg's first visit to a correctional facility. She is planning to participate in a regular Renew session at the prison.
"I went in with an open mind and it went well," she said. "Visiting the prison is not for everyone. I will take the next time to see if a smaller group setting is for me. If not, there are a lot of ways to serve in prison ministry. You can work with the families of prisoners or the prison employees and their families."
"I wanted to visit a correctional facility for quite awhile," added Bowman-Dillenburg, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano. "It went great. The bigger group made it very comfortable for my first time."
Steve Noll, a member of St. John Parish, Seymour, became involved in prison ministry six months ago. His interest in serving the inmates stems from his experiences as a parent.
"I went through some difficulties in relating to my kids," he said. "Through the despair and difficulties of the situation I developed some understanding. I started visiting juveniles at the jail, but the kids are in and out, so you don't get to make a connection like you do at the prison."
Noll said that he didn't know what to expect when visiting the correctional facility, but has been impressed with the inmates he has encountered.
"They are very secure individuals," he said. "They have the time to think about what they have done in their lives and to work on their faith."
"It (the Christmas gathering) was a good experience," he continued. ""It was emotional at times. Everyone shared hugs at the end."
The next meeting for diocesan Prison Ministry is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 in Bona Hall, Room 39, diocesan complex. For more information about Prison Ministry, contact Pastoral Services at (920)437-7531, ext. 8310.