St. George
Serbian Orthodox Church
Carmichaels, PA

Ministering to Prisoners

by Fr. Rodney Torbic

Prepared for the Late Vocations/Holy Diaconate Program. Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. May 15, 2003.


Ministering to Prisoners

-Ministering to prisoners requires a readiness/willingness to go into a locked institution.

-Ministering to prisoners requires a willingness to go through metal dectectors and to be subject to bodily searches.

-Visitation/ministerial rules vary from institution to institution.

-The federal, state and county governments operate correctional institutions. There are also privately operated facilities.

-Different degrees of confinement exist.

-Visitation space quality will vary between institutions.

-Items that can be brought into a institution are subject to approval and examination.

-Institutions have a process for prior approval of clergy to enter an institution.

-Clergy visit rules can be distinctly different from a regular inmate visit list.

-Serving as a prison/jail chaplain can be different from being a religious advisor for a particular inmate.

-Depending on the institution, an element of personal risk may be involved in making a visit to a correctional institution.

-Institutions have rules in place which are necessary to maintain control. Clergy are expected to abide by the rules.

-The institutional chaplain can be a source of help.

-There are few Orthodox in jail.

-Services for Orthodox Christians are minimal.

-A difference exists between a sentenced and unsentenced prisoner.

-Visitors are important to prisoners.

-When you enter an institution you are subject to the control of the people running the institution.

-Be prepared for delays when you enter an institution.

-Listen carefully to what prisoner says and does not say.

-Do not get financially involved with prisoners.

-When you enter an institution as an Orthodox Christian, maintain the high standards of Orthodox Christianity.

-Do not make commitments you cannot keep.

-If a person is convicted of a crime and serving a sentence, a determination of guilt has been established. To remove that determination, court action is required.

-There are differences between parole and probation.

-Do not attempt to mail or bring anything into an institution which is not permissible.

-Do not pressure prisoners into being "religious."

-If you choose to get involved with prison ministry, prepare yourself well.

-With the rarest exceptions, prisoners with long records are not going to become good overnight.

-Prison ministry is important.

-Ministry to Orthodox Christians is important.

-Most prisoners have not been raised in homes with strong Church involvement.

-Some prisoners may have had extensive Church involvement.

-Be sensitive to victims and to understanding that victims have been harmed, sometimes to extremes.

-Maintain a certain sense of distance and objectivity.

-Maintain decorum.

-Do not get caught up in negative discussions about the institution or the staff.

-It is the rare inmate who is not guilty of the offense for which he or she is sentenced.

-Be aware that plea bargaining occurs. The crimes actually committed may have been more serious than those for which a person was convicted.

-Some prisoners have no living family members.

-Some prisoners have no visitors.

-Prisoners are subject to health and mental health problems just as other people living in the community.

-What you see on television or read about in the newspaper may not be a true representation of prison or jail operations.

-Orthodox Christian witness can make an important statement to a prisoner.

-Visits at certain times can take on greater importance. For instance at times of sentencing, at holiday times, anniversaries, times of illness.

-Prisoners have families. Imprisonment affects families.

-Family members may be mistreated without ever having contributed to the crime.

-Family members may be victims of the prisoner's crimes.

-Prisons or jails may be far from where the prisoner's actual home or family lives.

-Some agencies exist to help prisoners.

-Some prisoners have access to income.

-Jobs and/or educational programs may be available to prisoners.

-Differences exist between adult and juvenile facilities.

-Prisoners will vary in the amount of interest they have in receiving visitors.

-Religious interests vary among prisoners.

-Religious backgrounds vary among prisoners.

-Most prisoners will eventually return to the community.

-Be sensitive to you own attitudes toward prisoners.

-Be sensitive to the attitudes of parishioners.

-Victims of crimes need help just as prisoners need help.

-Parishioners may have been prisoners at one time or another.

-Parishioners may have been victims of crimes.

-Church premises may have been the site of crimes or crime-related activity.

-What you say or do can impact significantly on the person you are talking with.

-Crime, prisoners and victims can be very emotional topics.

-With Christ, prisoners can change.

-With Christ, victims can heal.

-With Christ, ministering to prisoners can take place effectively.

-Be familiar with resources for Orthodox prison ministry.

-Not all institutions permit Communion to be served to inmates in ways commonly done.

-People ministering to prisoners can become crime victims.


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