Ministry stems from experience
Former inmate on mission to help those incarcerated and families
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
Peter Galowski will be the guest speaker at the "Brown County Jail Ministries Inc. Fund Raiser," Saturday, Oct. 20, at Calvary Lutheran Church, 1301 S. Ridge Rd. in Green Bay. The evening opens with a social hour and auction bidding at 5 p.m. Auction items include gift certificates from local businesses and restaurants, jewelry, sports memorabilia, a Lake Michigan fishing trip for four and more. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. Dinner tickets are $20 per person. For tickets, contact Deacon Jim Gauthier at (920)494-2534. Tax deductible donations help inmates develop resources, referrals and connections through support systems to reduce recidivism.
Galowski will also speak at "Building Stronger Safer Communities," 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Oct. 13, at Resurrection Parish, 333 Hilltop Drive, Green Bay. Alfonso Graham, chairman of the Parole Commission, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, will be the keynote speaker. Graham will address the issue of paroling inmates and the twin goals of their successful re-entry and community safety. A series of roundtables will also be part of the event. The fee is $7 at the door. For more information, call (920)272-8310 or 1-877-500-3580.
To support Galowski's volunteer ministry with Prison Fellowship, send tax deductible donations to: BASICS, 2224 W. Kilbourn Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53233. Make checks payable to BASICS, memo: Galowski.
GREEN BAY -- Nearly 22,000 adults are serving prison terms in Wisconsin.
Peter Galowski of Prince of Peace Parish in Green Bay was once among them. He was released in January 2006, after more than 28 years of incarceration following a double homicide conviction.
"I was fortunate that, when I got out, I had a wonderful wife and a good support system," he said. "There was a definite adjustment period. I didn't leave the house for the first month. I had an unreasonable amount of fear. You feel that if you go out, someone is going to pick you up and take you back to prison. I was able to make the transition because of my support system. Many people who are released from prison do not have that support. They may find the essential needs of shelter, food, clothing and a job, but they need something more. It's a hard adjustment."
Galowski's mission is to help those released from prison find the resources they need to succeed in the community. He serves as the Northeastern Wisconsin Aftercare Volunteer Coordinator for Prison Fellowship Wisconsin. Founded in 1976, Prison Fellowship offers programs for inmates, those released from prison and family members of the incarcerated. Prison Fellowship seeks the transformation of prisoners and their reconciliation to God, family and community through faith. Galowski's service to the organization is fueled by his personal experience.
"The first eight years (in prison), I was your typical inmate," he said. "I was angry. I had many issues, but then something happened. I turned my life over to Jesus Christ. Now I know as well as anyone that there are inmates who 'find religion' because it looks good to the parole board. I truly had a changed heart. I was serving a double life sentence, so I didn't expect to be released. I reconciled with God."
Fellow inmates noticed the change in Galowski.
"I was open about my transformation," he said. "When I was in Waupun, someone asked me, 'Did a rock fall out of the sky and hit you in the head?' I said, 'Exactly, the rock of Jesus Christ.'"
Daniel Golden, the district attorney who prosecuted Galowski also recognized that he was a changed man. During his trial, Golden called him a "cold-blooded killer." He added that if there was capital punishment in Wisconsin, he would have sought it.
"For some reason, he kept track of me in prison," said Galowski. "He saw the positive things I was doing over the years and was satisfied that I had changed. He actually wrote a letter to the parole board on my behalf."
While in prison, Galowski organized a spiritual group to address the needs of those released.
"I witnessed inmates being released, only to return to prison," he said. "'You were out, what happened?' I wanted to know why they were back and what could be done to prevent that from happening. Most of the men said what would have helped is if they were embraced by a church. When they found a church, the church did not embrace them. The church did not provide that support. They felt rejected. They would slowly go back to their old lifestyle. These were guys who were active in Bible study. They were spiritually pumped up. They got that spiritual support in prison, but didn't find it on the outside."
Through his work with Prison Fellowship, he hopes former inmates find support at churches.
"Much of what I do is networking," said Galowski. "I go to different churches and meet with social concerns and justice groups. I offer to give my testimony if they would like me to speak. I provide the churches and groups with materials to let them know what resources are available for those released from prison and their families. I want to bring churches into the network."
Galowski's wife, Cheryl, coordinates the Angel Tree program for Prison Fellowship. Through the program, churches sponsor projects to provide Christmas gifts to inmates' children on behalf of the parent in prison. Cheryl and Peter met and were married while he was incarcerated. In addition to Prison Fellowship, the couple is active in other faith based groups including JOSHUA, a congregation-based social justice organization in Green Bay.
Other Prison Fellowship programs include in-prison seminars and Bible studies, life plan seminars for prisoners within 18 months of their release, mentoring groups, and marriage seminars to help couples separated by incarceration prepare to be reunited.
"I'm just trying to contribute to society and help make a change in the lives of people I know are at risk," said Galowski. "I'm willing to share my testimony in hope that it will have a positive effect on people. I would say that 99 percent of people tell me that I've opened up their minds and hearts to grace. There are always going to be those who do not believe you. I can't change other people. I can't undo what I've done, but who am I to say that God can't change hearts."