Ministry to the Imprisoned

Dan Bartleson
Director of Communication Services

“I was told there were good men in this world, but this is the first time in my life I ever met any.” So stated an inmate at Montana State Prison during a Discovery weekend put on by the Catholic Sponsored Prison Ministry. Although he was mostly silent from Friday’s start to Monday afternoon, his singular statement to the group touched on what Christ can do when we engage the corporal work of mercy; when we visit the imprisoned.

Prison Ministry Director, Moe Wosepka explained, “It sure isn’t that we told him to straighten up. We just show goodness, we smile, we visit, and we shake hands.” The personal connection between inmates and Prison Ministry team members begins at Discovery weekends and carries on each month at Ultreya gatherings. Consistent, positive human connection is often absent from an inmate’s life. “They’ve been abandoned by and have abandoned loved ones and haven’t met anyone who’s kept a promise,” Wosepka said.

Discovery weekends are held twice annually at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, once for high security and once for low security inmates. A weekend is also held at Crossroads Correctional Facility near Shelby. The Prison Ministry team coordinates prayer, singing, fellowship and personal discussions around the fundamentals of Christianity. Prisoners participate in conversation, choose songs and some even speak with the group on a given topic or share thoughts at appropriate times. Sharing responsibilities for the weekend helps invite personal connection and foster an openness to a community of faith at monthly Ultreya meetings.

Ultreya gatherings in Deer Lodge and Shelby include music, a guest speaker and an inmate testimony or sharing. Ultreyas make up in frequency what they lack in time compared to weekends. According to Wosepka, the regular meetings make the most difference. “The magic number is 18 months. After that family contact tends to evaporate, sometimes for good reason. They look forward to seeing us. Some have zero visitors, no letters, no outside contact. We are like the uncle that didn’t forget them even though no one else in the family remembers them. Many grew up without a father in the home. We promise we will come back, and we do, every single month, sometimes for over 20 years.”

Wosepka has seen the fruits of the ministry over time, saying, “Some of the inmates and I have grown in the program together. I’ve seen major changes in the men, from a young punk becoming a 30 to 40-year-old man saying he doesn’t want to live this way anymore.”  The ministry has worked with inmates who pursue their CDL or more education as they consider entering the work force and make concrete plans for life after incarceration.

The average length of service for a volunteer in Prison Ministry is about 10 years. Wosepka, with 19 years, considers himself one of the junior members compared to John “Mac” MacDonald of Missoula/Hamilton, who has been involved for 40 years. The 32 men, and three women, who volunteer hail from Billings, Bridger, Red Lodge, Belfry, Lewistown, Great Falls, Helena, Polson, Belgrade, Three Forks and Missoula. “I have to admit I’m involved as much to be around the team as to serve the inmates; they are my heroes. They are committed, faithful, powerful Christians and this is not an easy ministry,” said Wosepka.

Volunteers go through mandatory training on the realities and risks of prison ministry, inmate behavior and prison procedure. Calling it a good fit for some, Wosepka pointed out that it can also stretch one’s personal faith, “It’s edgy and works well for people who like edgy. It also challenges us with the forgiveness part of our faith journey – which is one of the most difficult parts. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us can become very real, very quickly.”

The ministry receives some funding through the Diocesan Annual Catholic Appeal and is in need of volunteers.

Is Christ calling you to visit the imprisoned?

Contact Moe Wosepka

Anote4moe@gmail.com

(406) 461-8106

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