Over the years, many Sisters of Providence have ministered in jails and prisons, visiting with inmates and providing spiritual and emotional support. The United States now has the highest prison population rate in the world, costing billions of dollars annually and creating a critical shortage in prisons and jails. These facts imply not only great taxpayer expense but also the loss of productive citizens and treasured family members in communities across the country.

 

First-hand perspective

By Sister Sharon Richards

Even as a young person, I desired to make a difference in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.

The last 11 years have afforded me a special opportunity. I have been teaching GED and English as a Second Language to men in the Center for Correctional Concerns, the county jail, in Joliet, Illinois.

As an effort to prevent inmates from returning to prison, sometimes the judge will mandate that a detainee stay until he gets his GED. More often, however, the men themselves request education, desiring to use their time in a positive way.

My life as a child was so privileged, so vastly different from that of the men I teach. Unlike me, they grew up in poverty, broken homes and often with parents and/or neighborhoods rampant with drugs.

In the jail, I just look at each one and say we are all human beings and this classroom is a place of respect for one another. I don’t look down on anyone. I am a person who likes to bring peace to people’s lives.

I always look forward to the graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns and refreshments. The men feel a new sense of pride about themselves. If they are fathers, they are happy to have done something that increases their children’s respect for them and points a way to a better future.