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A plea to get involved in prison ministry

By Kaelanne Jordan

Deacon Patrick Laurence is appealing to the public, in particular, parishes, to get involved in prison ministry. He said the local ministry urgently needs “some vibrancy” to sustain its impact of ministering to prisoners.

“The majority of us in the prison ministry are retired people. So, we need some young people, some men, and women in their 30s, 40s. You can’t have the same people doing the same thing all the time. People get tired….” Deacon Laurence said.

He was speaking to Catholic News for Restorative Justice Week (November 21–25) celebrations hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service in collaboration with the Penal Reform and Transformation Unit for an outreach programme at the Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home, Wednesday, November 23.

Deacon Laurence spoke of his involvement in prison ministry for the past three and a half years. He observed, “[when] you talk to people about prisons, most people believe that if you go into a prison, you will come out with some kind of disease or something. [And that] prisoners, inmates are not the people to associate with. Something is going to rub off on you. So, we would like to take the opportunity to let people realise that they are human beings, brothers and sisters of ours, just like us, they have made mistakes….”

He explained that prison ministry is a project that is “very close and very dear” to the Catholic Church. “We want people to understand … just like any other ministry, we are catering to individuals, to people, not just situations. You can’t put them all in one basket and say this is what they are like.”

Deacon Laurence asserted, “We [have] been judged on how we take care of our prisoners, we set our prisoners free, not free from time they have to serve for what they have done, but free from the state of mind that put them there in the first place.”

Referring to the synodal journey of Church, Deacon Laurence emphasised that we too are invited to journey together in changing the mindset towards prisoners and the elderly.

Deacon Laurence explained Archbishop Jason Gordon requested he get involved in prison ministry and to “reorganise it a bit and try and get it more vibrant”.

“Unfortunately, at the time we were about to start, three years ago, we had the Covid and all of our personal contacts, face to face was ceased…. the prison was locked down.”

While face-to-face communication was discontinued, the prison ministry continued via Zoom with motivational and meditational sessions alternate Wednesdays.

“…We doing pretty well with that now. Indications from the prison service is that we will shortly be able to go back to face to face with prisons and the inmates,” Deacon Laurence said.


Prisoners serving the elderly

Deacon Laurence said the prisoners, without any prodding from himself or the prison ministry, wanted to “adopt” Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home. “And they just want to give back something, put an interest in their lives, something to look forward to….”

A contingent of charges from the Women’s Prison and the Golden Grove Prison journeyed to the Diego Martin Home to spend time with and pamper the residents.

A release from the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service said that five female inmates and two males provided grooming services which included manicures, pedicures, hairdressing, and barbering.

Both residents and members of staff were receptive, enthusiastic, and grateful for the humanitarian gesture by the Prison Service, which was followed by a luncheon prepared by the inmates.

Prior to the November 23 event, members of the out gang attached to the Port of Spain prison visited the Home and performed cleaning services in an around the compound. The services provided included grass cutting, landscaping, power washing and cleaning of some walls for which the management and staff expressed their sincere gratitude.

The release mentioned the Commissioner of Prisons (Ag) Deopersad Ramoutar expressed his pleasure and satisfaction at the success of the outreach programme. He noted that the Prison Service fosters the development of “giving back to society” through charitable initiatives to make amends to communities for transgressions caused.

He added that they are motivated, conscientious, and willing to give back, and initiatives such as these also help them as they prepare to re-enter society.