From left, Peter Galowski, Lois Pulvermacher, Deacon Mike Schmidt and Cheri Galowski shared how faith-based outreach to inmates, ex-offenders and their family members is making a difference in people's lives. See related story: Letters offer hope, inspiration to Sisters and inmates.
The testimonies are painful.
Women incarcerated at Taycheedah Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac tell in videotaped interviews of the thrill of selling drugs, of being "bad," and of being abused as children.
The statistics are staggering.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Corrections budget for 2011 was in excess of $2.4 billion. Prisons operate at nearly 120 percent capacity. Almost 22,000 men and women are incarcerated, and most will be released in the next three years, ill-equipped to find and keep self-supporting employment or function in a healthy manner in the outside world.
That's according to leaders of several faith-based prison and after-prison ministries serving the Brown County area. Five representatives conducted a half-day Prison Ministry Workshop at the Motherhouse for the Sisters and Associates in late 2011. The event, hosted by Associates Ron and Anne Glatt, who lead a Bible study for women at Brown County Jail, highlighted statewide data, information about who is helped through these services, and the need for volunteers.
Many of the services grew out of a support group for people who have loved ones in prison or jail. This ministry, coordinated by Deacon Mike Schmidt at Nativity Parish in Ashwaubenon, gave birth to several programs that lend spiritual support to men and women who are currently imprisoned, assist ex-offenders in adjusting to life after prison, and support people who mentor ex-offenders.
Sister Francis Bangert felt called to jail ministry several years ago after learning more about the difficulties ex-offenders face.
"My ministry in this area began while serving at Wellspring and being informed that a residence for male ex-offenders was being organized next door," she says. "Fearing how this would impact our ministry for women, I attended a support group meeting. After listening to many stories of struggle with drugs and alcohol, poverty, getting in trouble with the law and going to jail, and their desire to turn their lives around, it was my turn to speak. I had to admit my real reason for coming -- fear. I realized then, that we are all brothers and sisters on the same journey of life, with its challenges, feelings of failure, overwhelmed with life and subsequent anger, emotional, physical and mental pain. I felt one with the group. And my new journey began."
So, Sister Fran underwent training on how to mentor women re-entering society.
"I participate in a monthly mentor support group that affords guidance in keeping boundaries, being alert to community resources, and honing my mentor skills," she says. "The Prison Aftercare Network (PAN) also meets monthly to network with mentors and various agencies that provide information and updates on employment, housing, transportation, recovery programs, etc. And twice a month I participate in the Think Again Support Groups for ex-offenders."
Lois Pulvermacher, a licensed social worker who has been involved with prison ministry for 19 years, says the ministries are rooted in the Bible, starting with Genesis where Adam and Eve are removed from paradise after breaking God's law; however, they are not abandoned. She also cites Jesus' service to His disciples, the Our Father prayer and the Second Letter to Timothy in which Paul encourages the apostles to continue caring for the community. And even though the programs are rooted in faith, they are available to believers and non-believers.
"This is needs-based," says Orrie Kotecki, a retired probation and parole officer who works with the Welcome Home program, which helps ex-offenders meet their basic physical and emotional needs. "There are a lot of success stories. That's what has kept me going for so many years."
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