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ACA IN ACTION: The Prison Ministry is Transforming Lives

Supported by the 2016 Annual Catholic Appeal, the diocesan Office for Restorative Justice provides pastoral outreach at local prisons, and engages volunteers and parishes in answering Jesus’ call to care... through its Prison Ministry program.

“God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can – you must – try to seek God in every human life.” - Pope Francis

As part of the program, the Diocese of San Diego supports twelve chaplains to say Mass, administer the sacraments, and visit inmates individually. The ministry also provides assistance to almost 400 Catholic volunteers to conduct scripture, prayer and discussion services.

Fourteen years ago while attending Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Jennie B. Hansbrough met Freda Young, who at the time was a volunteer for the Prison Ministry. The two new acquaintances soon got to talking about the ministry, and a short while later, Jennie accepted Freda’s invitation to help.

Jennie B. Hansbrough reminisces about her first volunteer visit to a detention facility, 14 years ago.

For her first visit to the local juvenile detention center, she tagged along with Freda.

“Once I got into the room, and I looked at these young kids’ faces, I thought to myself how good God was and how God loved them unconditionally,” said Jennie. “It really impressed me so much [that I thought to myself] ‘I really want to do this!’”

Deacon Jim Walsh directs the Restorative Justice Program for the Diocese of San Diego. He said, “Approximately 27,000 inmates at more than two dozen facilities in San Diego and Imperial Counties have access to these powerful, spiritual gatherings.” 

Deacon Jim Walsh directs the Restorative Justice Program in the Office for Social Ministry in the Diocese of San Diego.

Male and female inmates of all ages and backgrounds are serving time for causing so many different harms. “Many of them are hungry to deepen their relationship with God. Our facilitators are the conduits or channels of the Holy Spirit,” said Deacon Jim.

One former inmate at Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility is Claudia. She was arrested for burglary crimes that stemmed from a drug addiction which began at age 15. “There is hope. When I was in jail I would go to church,” said Claudia, a mother of twin boys. 

At the detention facility, Mass was celebrated in a bungalow. “It really touched me there that I really, really need God, and I have to have faith. I have my boys,” added Claudia.

Claudia shares her personal story of transformation.

Since moving back home from the detention facility, Claudia now supports her twin boys who are active at church, part of the choir, and serving during other Masses. The boys are also looking forward to attending Steubenville this summer, where their very excited mother, Claudia, is a registered volunteer.

Claudia’s mother, Lupita, was so moved by the experience that she began volunteering at Las Colinas and now provides services in Spanish, sharing her family’s very personal testimony with other young women. “God is so good,” she said.

Through her daughter’s experience, Lupita now shares God’s love with others.

“We definitely have, what I would consider, the best outreach program in the world,” declared Mrs. Hansbrough.

Deacon Jim added, "The diocesan Prison Ministry transforms lives on a person-to-person level. It is possible thanks to your support of the Annual Catholic Appeal."