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Panel Finds Humanity In Prisons

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

On Friday, Oct. 26, the School of Theology and Ministry sponsored a conference titled “Prison Ministry: Where Justice and Mercy Meet.” The event featured keynote speakers Gregory Boyle, S.J. and Sister Maureen Clark, who spoke about the process of re-entry into society from a prison, as well as three panelists who gave firsthand accounts of their experiences in the area.

These three panelists included a man who had served 17 years in prison and was paroled last January, a woman who lost her son to violence, and a prison ministry volunteer who employs a percentage of formerly incarcerated employees in his business. This is the second of such events, with the last one held two years ago.

Christa Morse, GSSW ’13, was involved in the organization of the event. “The main message of the event was that we are all in this together,” Morse said. “As Fr. Greg stated, ‘There is no us and them-only us.’ To me, this is the heart of prison ministry—the women and men who are incarcerated are our sisters and brothers, and the more we can share in life with them and hold up a mirror to reflect back their humanity to them, the closer we come to the kind of community that God desires for us.”
Two hundred people attended the event, comprised of both members of the Boston College community and the outside community. Attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions in the group and talk about their thoughts in order to make the experience as interactive as possible, Morse said.

Boyle has done extensive work with the incarcerated through Homeboy Industries, a program that helps members of rival gangs come together and provides jobs to those seeking rehabilitation, and talked about the importance of recognizing the connection between people. Clark spoke on “Beginning Again: The Challenge and Struggles of Re-Entry.” The three panelists responded to her presentation, giving their personal experiences with the justice system.

Morse said she was deeply moved by the panelists’ speeches. Carl Carbonic gave his story, describing how he entered prison at a third-grade reading level but earned his GED while incarcerated, and went on to lead Bible studies inside the prison. Janet Connors, whose son was murdered, decided to engage in a “restorative dialogue” with the men who had killed him. “In a conversation with the men, she shared her anger, her grief, as well as her belief in their core goodness,” Morse said. “She is a powerful witness of reconciliation.”
Students who wish to get involved can connect with local prison chaplains to volunteer in a variety of ways, or connect with School of Theology and Ministry students who participate in visits to local prisons, Morse said. Students can also attend School of Theology and Ministry reflection nights to discuss relevant topics.

“There is a strong need for volunteers to engage in this kind of friendship with those on the other side of the wall, given the often dehumanizing way in which incarcerated women and men are treated, so I’d encourage anyone who feels drawn to prison ministry to get connected to the chaplains or the STM Prison Ministry Initiative,” Morse said.

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