Religious Services for Inmates

What religious services are available at the Camp?

Saturday, April 7th, 2012 |

Nearly all of the religious denominations are represented here so there are religious services for nearly everyone who desires to worship.  We had our Catholic Good Friday services yesterday. We have an Easter mass scheduled for Monday.

The Protestants are having their Easter service at sunrise on Sunday. The Jews had their Seder last night.   I think they have been very accommodating on scheduling and facilitating the services.  You got to take it as you can get it.

Chapel

The chapel here is heavily used. It’s not big by any stretch.  It has a main room with partitions that divide the space into two other small rooms. One of those rooms is used for watching DVDs/Cassettes on individual players. There is always at least one or two guys watching something.  In addition to the religious services, the chapel is also used to show movies that are fairly new (no first releases here and nothing rated over PG-13).

There is an office for a chaplain and a secretary. The camp used to have a dedicated chaplain but not anymore. I see a complex chaplain every once in a while. The secretary works a full schedule coordinating the chapel activities.

There is also a religious library divided into sections by religion. I’ve donated some Catholic books to it so I assume that, for the most part, the books have been donated by the inmates over time.

Worship Services

We have Catholic Eucharistic service every Sunday and a mass with a Catholic priest once a month. All of the religious services are presided by volunteers. At least for the Catholics, the same volunteer services two or three of the prison facilities at Butner. I know that our volunteer also has services at the FMC and the Low. I’m assuming that there is a second volunteer for the Medium and the High.

There is a general Protestant service on Sunday evenings, but there are others, primarily evangelical such as Church of Christ, that have their own.  There are also regular bible study classes.

The Muslims are active and well represented here.  There is a small but active Jewish community. The Low even had a Wiccan community that had their service before the Catholic service, which was really weird. The Native Americans have their own tepee on the far end of the recreation yard. They smoke pipes and burn fires regularly.

Solo Religious Practice

The guys also find ways to worship on their own. For example, there are about ten black guys who always recite the Lord’s Prayer every night before the 9 pm count. One of the Jewish inmates teaches a comparative scripture class for Christians on Saturday evenings.

I also see a lot of guys reading their bibles. Obviously there are a lot guys who don’t practice anything but, all-in-all, there is a more active faith community than I was expecting.

As much as I complain and let out steam about Butner camp life, the reality is that we have it good.  Despite all the things I write about, it is far better than it is behind the fence. I know that some people prefer being at the Low, but I don’t see why. Everything that really matters is better here in the camp.

Prison Prayers

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 |

My religious readings and prayers have increased since coming to prison. We obviously have more time on our hands than when we were dealing with everyday life. My prayer life generally involves reading the daily morning prayer from “The Magnificat” upon waking.  Later, I will read other excerpts from “The Magnificat”, including the mass and the evening prayers.   Another Catholic camper said that he would find me a rosary.  I generally go to communion services every Sunday afternoon. We had a local priest say mass this afternoon.

Ten Prayers

I previously wrote about reading the book titled “Ten Prayers That God Always Says Yes To”.  I say these ten prayers every day.  As a reminder, the ten prayers generally include: God, (1) show me that you exist, (2) make me an instrument of your love and peace; (3) outdo me in your generosity; (4) grant me peace, (5) wisdom, (6) courage and (7) forgiveness; (8) help me get through my suffering, (9) help me make sense of it, and (10) show me my purpose in life.  Powerful prayers.

Miracle Reunion

There are times when people enter your life through the grace of God to serve His purpose. When my three siblings visited a few weeks ago, we talked to the inmate photographer. Something clicked, and the discussion went much longer than I would have imagined given the crowded visitation room. This inmate cornered me later that day, and told me that he had never met so kind and caring people as he met in my siblings.

We carried on a lengthy conversation then and over the next few days. It’s a long story, but he has been “down” for 17 years with a few more to go. He has been estranged from his only daughter since his wife’s death from cancer.  The daughter was only a child when he went to prison many years ago. She is very bitter about not having her father during the illness and death of her mother. The daughter took some actions against her father, that no one should have done to their father, in retribution. She has a son that my friend has never met. My friend has forgiven his daughter and prays for her forgiveness. He asked me to pray for the two of them to be reunited. I have been praying for such a miracle, and brought it for special intention at one of our communion services.

Sometime last week, my friend told me that he talked to his daughter, the first time in years. The conversation was very fruitful and tender. She agreed to visit this past weekend. He continued to pray for the reconciliation of his relationship with his daughter. All to be forgiven and forgotten.

She did visit this weekend. Christine and I were there, and we got great pleasure in watching this reunion. We met with both and recognized this lost love being reborn. It was a beautiful sight. We had a chance to meet her and talk to both in the visitation room.

Grateful to Help

My friend told me later that night how grateful he was for our friendship and prayers. He told me that reunion could not have gone better. Don felt a new connection with his daughter, that one can receive only through the grace of God. She agreed to bring his grandson on her next visit. He particularly loved Christine and felt that Christ was working through Christine and me. He believes we were instrumental in this miracle. It brings me great pleasure to see prayers answered.

I saw God in this story. I saw that God exists; that I can make a difference in someone’s life, and I saw the type of forgiveness that only Christ can inspire. It was a good weekend.

Library and Chapel

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 |

The library and chapel are in adjacent buildings behind the housing units.  It is amazing how convenient all the Camp services are compared to the Low, where everything was so spread out.

Library

I have been spending some time in the library, but not enough.  I typically look for books, make copies and use the manual typewriters.  The library is disappointingly small with only two reading tables.  However, there are additional working tables lining the walls with typewriters and computer monitors for legal research.

The book selection is much smaller than I expected.  In addition, the library books are not arranged by category but by author name.  This is a bummer because I usually find a category (e.g. history, non-fiction, etc.) and then look for a book.  Here it is all put together.  Occasionally, an ambitious camper gets permission to move books around and reorganize it.

The library also has newspaper rack with national and local newspapers, a postage scale and envelope printer.  All outgoing mail must have a mailing label printed from the inmate’s contact list in Trulincs.

The education rooms are also located in the library.  They are small but get a lot of use.  Nearly all the classes are taught by inmates.  For example, there is one physician who teaches anatomy, Latin, French and Spanish.  I plan to teach a class in real estate investing.

Chapel

I went to Catholic communion services at the chapel yesterday.  The chapel is a relatively simple set up with a main worship room and two smaller rooms.  One of the smaller rooms has lockers to accommodate the materials for each denomination, and the other is a religious library.  There are also two offices for each the chaplain and chaplain’s secretary.  The Camp doesn’t have a chaplain right now so that job is being done by other Butner chaplains.

The Catholic services are presided over by Eucharistic ministers from the local Butner Catholic Church.  I’m told that they have a priest that comes in once a month.  The other denominations have similar arrangements, but a Protestant chaplain presides over a non-denominational service every Sunday.  This service is very well-attended.

Everything happens for a reason and a purpose…

August 26th, 2011 |

I was reflecting this morning on how Christine and I always talk about “everything that happens to us, happens for a reason and a purpose, and that it serves us and God”.  I received the Magnificat from my mother and started thumbing through it. The introduction that quotes Fr. Walter Ciszek hit me right on, and I want to share it:

“How easy it is… for us to become dependent on our routines … Friends and possessions surround us … It is the status quo that … carries us from day to day; … we begin to lose sight of the fact that … behind all these things it is God who … sustains us. We go along, taking for granted that tomorrow will be very much like today, comfortable in the world we have created for ourselves …and give little thought to God. Somehow, then, God must contrive to break through those routines … and remind us once again … that we are ultimately dependent only upon Him, … that His we are and that we must look to Him and turn to Him in everything. Then it is, perhaps, that He must allow our whole world to be turned upside down in order to remind us it is not our permanent abode or final destiny, to bring us to our senses and restore our sense of values, to turn our thoughts once more to Him”.

Holding Christine’s hand and looking into her eyes yesterday reminded me how our love has grown over the past four years. This adversity has made both of us stronger and brought our marriage together with the glue that is unbreakable. Together, we will find our reason and purpose. And, it will serve us, as good people, and provide us with the opportunity to serve others and thus God.

This is something we should seek, and God will show us the way, and we will find.

Laid-Back First Sunday

Sunday, August 21st, 2011 |

It was a very laid-back day.  I went to the Catholic service this morning. It was in the small chapel. As I previously said, there are a lot of different religions represented here so they have the services stacked up each Sunday. There were about 30 guys in attendance. The service was led by a woman volunteer who does all the Catholic services at Butner.  The volunteers go to each of the facilities here in sequence.  The service followed the prayers and rites of the mass without the consecration of the Eucharist. It was very simple, nice and moving.

I try to get up around 6 am and walk for about an hour after breakfast, and today was no different. Breakfast was grits and a donut. Lunch is supposed to be an omelet and breakfast sausage.

I can see that I will be doing a lot of reading here.  I finished “The Civil War” by Bruce Catton last night and started a book about Madoff this morning. Madoff is at Butner as well but at the Medium, a higher security unit. I’m really surprised that he is not at the Low but it must have something to do with his lengthy sentence.  In addition, the Medium is a “drop-off” prison where they can provide him with better security.

My First Weekend Day in Prison

Saturday, August 20th, 2011 |

This is my first weekend day in prison, and I am beginning to feel that I am settling in.  Last night was very uneventful and I slept well. I got up this morning, had breakfast and walked for an hour. I read some and prepared for the 10 am count, which are unique to the weekend days only.

All morning they have been calling guys down to visitation, and I recall how much I miss Christine, Watson and all our friends. The reality of the situation has come full bore. I know all this is very hard on Christine, and it is really hitting me how tough both of us are going to have it.

Counts

Counts require you to be standing by your bed in your cell at certain times of the day or night.  The whole prison shuts down during counts. In fact, the whole BOP system takes its counts at the same time.  It is taken very seriously since this is the most likely time that the facility would notice an escape.   Counts are simply where two CO’s walk each unit and count each inmate.  “Out-counts” are where the CO’s count inmates that are not in the unit at the time of count (e.g. when the inmates are at work or in visitation).  The counts are reported up the BOP chain – institutional, regional and then national.  The counts are cleared when the facility has reconciled the number of inmates it is supposed to have under custody to those they just counted.

After count today, they locked down the units because the chaplain’s office reported that someone stole a badge. How ridiculous! As if they are going to find a badge! They finally opened the doors for lunch, without shaking down any cells. It was one of the better meals – open faced turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes and an apple.

Chapel

I missed Catholic services today. Someone gave me the wrong time but there is another chance at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how one service differs from another. Their chapel is just an assembly room and a couple of other rooms. There’s nothing religious appearing at all.

The Wicca’s were having a ceremony when I was in talking to the chaplain. It really seems odd that people worshiping the devil practice in the same room as people who believe in a higher God.

What really upsets me still is that they won’t let me bring in a rosary. Christine can’t mail me one either. Even the terrorists get prayer beads in Guantanamo. The guy in the cell next to me works in the chaplains’ office so I am still pressing for a job there (but probably fat chance).

Library

I spent most of my time in the library this afternoon. The library is very small and consists of a couple of admin offices, a very small “legal” library, a room with manual typewriters (bring your own ribbon-yes more money for the commissary) and book stacks using those movable shelves that you move forward or back with a handle. There is very little in way of good books, not that they don’t have some good titles. They have the Patton biography, which I will start when I finish my Civil War book.

Included in the library building is the education department. It has several small classrooms, some of which have computers and/or small TV’s’s for viewing educational and religious DVDs. I really haven’t explored the educational opportunities besides the paralegal program.

Recreation Yard

Actual photo of Butner Low. Notice the fencing.

As I mentioned earlier, I walked for a full hour this morning but I also walked for 30 minuters after dinner. The big time for most guys to workout is after dinner. There are 2 baseball diamonds, 4 or 5 basketball courts, bocce ball, volleyball, horseshoes, an area for weight training and the indoor aerobics area. They also have pool tables. There is a track that is about 2/3 of a mile around the entire yard. I’m amazed about how much use it gets, both for walkers and joggers. A lot of these younger guys are in great shape and spend a lot of their time working out. I could use some help in this area!

These amenities are tempered with the imposing reality that you are in a secure prison. The “yard” is on the far end of the prison site and is surrounded by an electrified, barbed-razor wire double fence. It is very intimidating, and as much as you see prisons on TV, there is nothing like being on the inside of one.