Getting Started Inside
Some Gleanings from CO’s Prison Outreach Survey Results*
At a Glance: A rich, diverse and exuberant response:
- 88 respondents
- from 30 different U.S. states, Canada and Mexico
- from both men’s and women’s facilities
- from volunteers outside and chaplain/staff inside
- over 60% of respondents have been practicing Centering Prayer for more than 10 years
COVID disruption: COVID has clearly disrupted the outreach, yet many continue to hold prayerful space for those incarcerated; some have been able to communicate with incarcerated persons in new ways during COVID, such as sending in newsletters or handouts, or even in some places in the United States, corresponding via special email arrangements. There is overwhelming consensus that “We can’t wait to get back inside!”
Contact and Communication: These two words stand out and seem to be a consensus of appreciation for the outreach and a desire to connect with others in some sort of network. There is interest in periodical Zoom meetings to network with people who are doing prison Centering Prayer outreach.
Further issues that a network of volunteers could explore together that were specifically listed in responses:
Difficulty in access and permission at institutions
Corresponding with prisoners
Working with folks recently released/empowering their leadership
Centering Prayer facilitation in prisons
Centering Prayer Introduction in prisons
Resources that can be shared inside/outside
Mentoring new volunteers, including incarcerated and recently incarcerated folks
Grateful and Humbled: Two more words that are really striking: the overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility of the people engaged in this work.
Diversity: This word describes two realities. First, there is a call for diversity. More young volunteers; resources that include voices from people of color (Howard Thurman in particular was mentioned); a need for Spanish-speaking facilitators and resources. Secondly, it is amazing to think about the diversity of responses: so many places, institutions, geographical settings, men’s and women’s facilities, laity and clergy, denominational backgrounds. This network of volunteers is very ecumenical and inter-denominational in its scope.
“It is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.” –a volunteer doing Centering Prayer outreach in prisons
“Our prisoners are very grateful for the Centering Prayer prayer group. They find it a real blessing.”
“This is the only hour in the week when I feel free.” –an inmate
“I would like to communicate with others in Centering Prayer ministry.” –volunteer
The Prison Outreach Service Team formed out of the survey conducted in February and March of 2021 to identify the strengths and opportunities related to Principles 3 and 12 of our Vision: the presence of the Divine in us is the permanent self-giving of God to every human person (3) and we are invited to make available the gift of Centering Prayer to everyone, particularly to the needy and the marginalized (12). Each of us has been profoundly affected by transformation “inside the walls” (our own and others’). We have tasted new freedom from our own emotional programs for happiness through this outreach and would be glad to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prison Outreach Service Team
Hampton D. Paul W.
Chandra H. Doug L.
Ray M. Rita W.
* If you’d like to explore the survey results in more detail, the data is available in these downloadable documents (with identifying information removed except where express permission was given):
- Overview and Q13 responses (PDF document) – probably the best place to start: this contains a few comments about the other files, plus some trends/observations and then answers to the “anything else you’d like to share” question
- Q3-10 – by question (Excel spreadsheet) – this allows you to see charts and statistics at a glance for the short-answer questions
- Q11 only (Excel spreadsheet) – answers to the open-ended invitation to share stories of hope during pandemic; these responses are identified based on the option selected in Q12 (anonymous, by initials, by name, or by name & email)