When We Visit Jesus in Prison: A Guide for Catholic Ministry
by Chaplain Dale S. Recinella
Review by Ann Naffziger, M.Div., M.A.B.L.
As more and more Catholics begin to explore prison ministry as volunteers and professional ministers, they need solid resources and training in order to enter into a world that is vastly different from life on “the outside.” Prison ministry is an intense yet vastly rewarding ministry that cannot be undertaken lightly. Any Catholic hoping to bring Christ’s light into the darkness of prison life and to witness Christ who is already present there must know the basics of the current sociological and psychological understanding of incarceration, as well as a foundation of credible and responsible practices for prison ministry. Layman Dale Recinella provides just that in his new book When We Visit Jesus in Prison. A former Wall Street finance lawyer, Recinella found himself called to prison ministry more than 20 years ago and his life has never been the same since. His book combines systematic Catholic theological background with real-life tales of prisoners and prison staff members whom he has encountered over the years of his ministry behind prison walls.
Historically Protestant churches have had a stronger presence in prison ministry and there are a multitude of helpful resources available from a Protestant perspective. Now Recinella’s book combines the wisdom and experience of prison chaplains from many traditions within a specifically Catholic framework, attuned to common questions and scenarios Catholic chaplains and volunteers will encounter on the cell blocks or at Catholic services behind the walls.
Part I of the book systematically presents social justice, ecclesial, and pastoral frameworks for ministry, addresses Catholic prison ministry as evangelization, and discusses spiritual, communal, and individual practices for ministers to avoid burnout. Part II address the general pastoral needs of inmates, staff, and the families of inmates, and presents current theories on why people commit crime and characteristics of criminal thinking. Part III considers the specific needs of particular prison populations, for example women prisoners, newly arrived inmates, and those facing life sentences. Part IV wraps up with a discussion of constraints that affect restorative justice.
For anyone considering ministering to an incarcerated population, volunteers who are beginning their journey, or experienced prison ministers who continue to seek out Jesus in prison, this book will be a valuable, challenging, and ultimately hopeful resource.