Vineland Daily Journal: Catholic Charities brings prison volunteers together

VDJ Photo

Rev. David Link, Chaplain of the Indiana State Prison, was the featured speaker at the Third Annual Gathering Day of Prison Ministry volunteers in the Diocese of Camden. The event was held at Sacred Heart High School in Vineland. Photo: Jodi Streahle

By Jodi Streahle (Read the original from The Daily Journal)

VINELAND – Volunteers from the Catholic Charities Prison Ministry joined in a time of prayer and reflection Saturday during the Third annual Gathering Day for the Diocese of Camden.

They prayed for those who are incarcerated, for the victims of crime and their families, for those who minister to the incarcerated and for those re-entering society.

“It is your presence that you give them,” said Sister Mary Lou Lafferty, OSF coordinator of Prison Ministry during the opening remarks.

The volunteers traveled from across the six southern counties in the state to meet at the former Sacred Heart High School gym, 1010 E. Landis Ave. The Rev. David Link, the featured speaker, traveled from Indiana where he serves as chaplain of the Indiana State Prison.

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Prison Ministry Coordinator, Sister Mary Lou Lafferty, OSF and Father David Link take questions during the gathering day.

“If you feel the call, you have to try it,” said Deacon Jim Hallman of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown. He has been a prison ministry volunteer for six years. At first he had to fight the fear associated with entering the prison. “When that big door clangs closed, chills go down your back,” he said. “But I was determined to continue, and I didn’t allow that fear to show.”

He said the men that he met inside South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton “wanted to be fed,” and that the consolation was as deep for those men as it was for him.

Michelle Budd of Wilmington, Del., volunteers weekly with Sacred Heart Church in Camden at the Camden County Correctional Facility. “If it were my kids or me, I would appreciate if someone came to visit,” said Budd. “I want to make sure they know that there are resources … I’m enriched by it.”

Gathering Day also included testimonials from three formerly incarcerated men and women who shared what the prison ministry meant to them.

A long road led Juan A. Guillen Luna of Camden to the prison ministry. He spent more than two years in prison, but it was more than two decades after his release when he was called to the prison ministry.

He became a business owner after his release, but he was forced to resign after being diagnosed as bipolar and facing the loss of his father who was his mentor. “I couldn’t function,” he said.

He was taking a lot of medication when he moved from Tampa, Fla., to Camden in 2008. He said his aunt came to visit him every day for four months to talk about “this guy Jesus.” Finally, he decided to go to church just so she would stop talking about it.

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Three formerly incarcerated men and women share their testimonies. From left, Juan A. Guillen Luna, Gail DeVine, and James Pritchett

During the service, he was called to the altar. Men from the church began talking to him about the things that were going on in his life. Although he was somewhat aggravated with his aunt for sharing the information, he stuck it out for the rest of the service.

Hours later he left and talked with his aunt. “I was kidnapped by the Holy Spirit. She didn’t tell them anything,” he said.

He is now the founder and chief visionary officer of Hard 2 Hire, a program that offers entrepreneurship training for prison reentry and individuals diagnosed with mental health challenges.

Link shared his experiences in the prison ministry during his presentation. “Jesus doesn’t talk about punishment. He talks about healing,” said Link. “The people that I serve and many of you serve didn’t fall into the cracks. They were born into the cracks.”

Acknowledging that some criminals deserve to remain in prison, he said “most are not bad people. These are good people who made some terrible decisions in their lives.”

Prison Ministry volunteers serve nine correctional institutions in the Diocese of Camden including Atlantic County Justice Facility, Camden County Correctional Facility, Cape May County Correctional Facility, Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton, Bayside State Prison, Southern State Correctional Facility, Cumberland County Jail and Salem County Correctional Facility.

For more information, call (856) 342-4106 or visit www.camdendiocese.org.

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