Program works to make saints behind bars


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 he’s 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.


“The single hour outside of their cell is for exercise,” he said, “but it’s also spent in isolation.”


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 “Spiritual Formation in Segregation,” 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.


“The participants will get the support and encouragement of a trained spiritual director through written correspondence,” 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. “This is one way to reach them to help them understand that God is there with them, that they are part of a community.”


He said he designed the program to “draw 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.”


Rundell added that as the prisoners progress through a module they will compose a “spiritual letter” and a “spiritual reflection” 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.


“I 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.


“That would allow the men who are isolated in a prison cell to again become part of the community,” he said.


Printed with permission from the Catholic Advance, newspaper for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.

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