.- By Christopher M. Riggs, Catholic Advance
Most of society has forgotten about the criminals locked away for the rest of their lives.
Jim Rundell knows God hasn't forgotten about them. Rundell, who works with the diocesan St. Dismas Ministry to the Incarcerated, wants them to become saints. When heâs not at the prison or at home, he works as the administrator of the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita.
Rundell said about 350 of the 1,350 prisoners at the El Dorado Correctional Facility are in a segregated area and are confined to a single cell for 23 hours a day because of behavior problems or for their safety.
âThe single hour outside of their cell is for exercise,â he said, âbut itâs also spent in isolation.â
The men have an extraordinary need of God, Rundell said, but because they may have no contact with outsiders, one-on-one ministry is almost impossible. The two chaplains at the prison must spend most of their time with the men in the general population.
Rundell has designed a program for the men to help themselves. The pilot program, called âSpiritual Formation in Segregation,â is an ecumenical program for men in long-term segregation. It incorporates prayer, scriptural reflection, personal discernment, and journaling. From six to nine prisoners will be involved in the pilot.
âThe participants will get the support and encouragement of a trained spiritual director through written correspondence,â he said.
One of the biggest problems for men isolated in prison is the need to feel they are a part of the Body of Christ, Rundell added. âThis is one way to reach them to help them understand that God is there with them, that they are part of a community.â
He said he designed the program to âdraw from their hearts, rather than from their minds, so that they might experience the real presence of God in their lives right were they are.â
Rundell added that as the prisoners progress through a module they will compose a âspiritual letterâ and a âspiritual reflectionâ that they are required to mail to their spiritual director through Rundell. Participants will work through about 10 modules in a year.
The program is also designed to help the men minister outside the prison, Rundell said.
âI hope to provide some avenues such as writing a witness letter that could be read to youth at risk, or perhaps a donation of a piece of art to a nursing home or school.
âThat would allow the men who are isolated in a prison cell to again become part of the community,â he said.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Advance, newspaper for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.