Impact of COVID-19 on the incarcerated

Written by Deacon Bob Leibrecht, Director of Criminal Justice Ministry

Texas prison inmates generally adapt to their confinement, but the coronavirus pandemic has made this isolation feel even worse, as they have been unable to visit with their loved ones since mid- March. In addition, religious volunteer programs which can be a lifeline for many inmates have been cancelled until further notice. It is possible family visitation and volunteer programs may not resume until late fall, or early 2021. When this happens,
there may be a new “normal” in terms of these activities. During this lockdown, Prison Ministry volunteers have been writing inmates to continue to offer spiritual encouragement. When an offender receives a letter, it brighten up their day and lets them know that they are not alone in their Catholic faith journey.

At present, this is our primary way to stay spiritually connected offering love, hope and peace in the midst of this pandemic. Masses are being recorded for the prisons in the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Diocese of Austin. These recorded Masses are put on DVDs and sent to Huntsville where the chaplaincy department makes copies for 100-plus state prisons. Mass is then shown at each unit on Monday afternoon. The homilies share our love for the community and reminds them that they are in a penitentiary which means repentance, a place where they can repent of their
crimes. It can also be thought of as a monastery where they can devote their time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to open their hearts and let the
Lord transform their lives. Since communication is a two way street, many inmates are writing back and offering us encouragement, as well. Here are two examples of material received. The first is a poem entitled “Constant Sigh” by Gary Smith and other is a reflection on “Suffering” by LWS Allen.

Photo: Father Ron Cloutier gives Communion through a slot to an inmate in solitary confinement at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Correctional Ministries)

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