How can we use this time to bond with “our brothers in white”?
The COVID-19 pandemic situation has given new meaning to a term used in Texas prisons that is somewhat akin to “sheltering in place” – that term is “LOCKDOWN”.
At least twice a year in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system, an order is issued in each of the 104 prisons calling for a “LOCKDOWN”. This means that no one goes in or out of the facility except for work. All ministry is forbidden for a duration usually lasting 5-6 days. During a lockdown every unit dormitory or cell is searched and undergoes a “shakedown” during which every prisoner’s personal property, bunk, and all congregating and common areas in the facility are thoroughly searched for contraband. During lockdowns, movement within the unit is highly restricted.
Typically, in Texas prisons, inmates are told when they can eat, when they can sleep, when to take medication, when to leave their dorm for class, infirmary, or simply when to go outside for fresh air and exercise. But even these restrictive norms are cancelled during a lockdown.
I have been a prison minister since 2008 when I decided to retire from the practice of law in my small community of Edinburg. I began doing what I had always wanted to do eventually with my life…the things I always wanted to do but never had enough time …and “No” prison ministry was not one of those things. But again, you’ve heard the axiom “man plans, and God laughs” … that’s exactly what happened to me. I wanted to spend my days traveling or relaxing in my back yard. But instead I was invited to prison ministry.
When the lockdown in the prisons due to the Coronavirus was first announced, our ministers still wanted to go in with proper protection. But this was not allowed. And so we have been forced into an unscheduled lockdown ourselves.
I texted and emailed volunteers and suggested that we all take a breath and consider that perhaps Jesus was asking us to take our ministry to another level – perhaps he was asking us to “walk in their shoes” and really feel their pain, their isolation, their fear, their sense of abandonment. As our personal movements became more and more restricted in our communities, how can we use this time to bond with “our brothers in white”, a term we prefer to that of “prisoners.”
Can we offer this “suffering”, if we dare call it that, while watching Netflix and Youtube, enjoying food in our well-stocked pantries, and enjoying time connecting with loved ones albeit through social media.
Can we take time to listen to the Lord and his message for each one of us? What can we learn about ourselves during this lockdown that can help us reach more souls for Christ? How can we use this precious gift of time to resolve our differences with others in and outside our family? And lastly, but most importantly, is there a way we can continue to touch the lives of our brothers in white without physically being present?
And so, along with other Dioceses across this country we have chosen to begin a letter writing campaign into the local prisons. It was the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas that encouraged us through a local news story found at this website:
God does work in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform – for after all we are an Easter people who believe in the Resurrection of the body and Life everlasting!
Ofelia de los Santos
Director for Jail Ministry
Diocese of Brownsville, Texas – April 8, 2020