Thursday, November 20, 2008

When I was in Philadelphia I mentioned our wonderful Cooperators, Jack and Sophie, and their group, "Mary, Mother of Captives," a Pennsylvania support group for the families of people who are doing time. Clearly, any family is traumatized when a loved one is sentenced to prison. And not all families have the resources to visit the prison on a regular basis. Imprisonment can lead to family breakup. Imprisonment of a parent is a known factor increasing the likelihood that a child will also one day be an offender. So MMOC serves as an informal prison ministry, too. They coordinate a penpal program (no pun intended?) and even sponsor an annual inmate art sale: inmates are invited to submit their art projects, which are then displayed and offered for sale. The inmates receive the proceeds from the sale--although a few of them donate the proceeds to Mary, Mother of Captives.
Not all inmates have access to artistic media. Some do: they even specify the kind of paper, the types of pencils or pastels used, etc. But others can only use white office paper and #2 pencils.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, I was astonished at the quality of some of the works of art carried out behind the prison walls. Jack told me that one inmate, in a rather notorious prison in the Deep South, always features hummingbirds and flowers in his delicately painted submissions. Another prisoner, who worked for years "as a horseman," did the image of horse and rider you see here. Still another submitted his work with a message about his daughter, being raised by her grandparents after her mother died of an overdose.
Sophie told me of doing a presentation in a parish about their organization. The pastor gave them time after the homily to explain the group's goals and activities. And then he returned to the pulpit to add that his own brother was in prison. I remember assisting a deacon in one of our bookstores. He picked out a selection of spiritual reading and then gave us his son's address at a correctional facility. The US currently has more people in prison than any other nation on earth. In some places, Catholic prison ministries are actively obstructed; one inmate I know of converted to Catholicism in prison, and was then transferred to another prison where there is no access to the sacraments. (That doesn't stop him from giving other prospective converts instructions in the faith, using donated books.)
The submissions to the MMOC Art Show that behind those bars and walls there are thousands of souls who cannot hide from their need for redemption.

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