I was released from federal prison in 2015 after two and a half years in custody. I left prison with little hope for any kind of meaningful professional future, and I was most fortunate to be re-admitted into a PhD program at the University of San Diego upon my release.
My doctoral research centered on restorative justice and prisoner reentry and reintegration. My incarcerate experience gave me an informed perspective into the challenges and often the tragedies experienced by those who are “locked up” and “invisible” to most of the rest of the population in our country. I completed my graduate work in 2018, and I was blessed to be hired by the Diocese of San Diego to manage and resource the diocese’s prison and jail ministry programs.
Today I am the Director for the Office for Life, Peace, and Justice at the Diocese of San Diego, which seeks to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through education, advocacy, and support for marginalized individuals and communities throughout the diocese. The office’s primary mission is centered on Catholic Social Teaching’s recognition of human dignity and the sanctity of life for all persons from conception to natural death, welcoming the immigrant and caring for the prisoner. The office supports and resources parishes throughout the diocese to build upon their own social ministry programs.
Much of my day-to-day work is focused on managing and supporting the Catholic religious programming and services in the 25 jails, prisons, and detention centers in San Diego and Imperial counties in Southern California. With a volunteer team of more than 20 chaplains and more than 400 volunteers, the Diocese of San Diego brings the Gospel and the “Face of Christ” to the 26,000 men and women currently incarcerated throughout the diocese.
Our ministry also includes a vibrant inmate pen pal program, and we are building our capacity with several local non-profits to create a reentry ministry for our returning citizens. Our incarcerated Catholic population collectively constitutes the largest parish in our diocese.
Prison and jail ministry, of which I was a recipient from 2013 to 2015, is a profound experience for those who are called to join in this unique ministry. Most volunteers begin in prison ministry believing they will be saving wayward souls and bringing the Gospels to the darkest place: prison.
The volunteers in our ministry are most surprised that they often encounter Christ in the men and the women they meet inside the jail and prison walls. As many chaplains and volunteers have shared with me, they receive far more from the inmates and detainees than they are ever able to give in return.
Jesus has a unique way of reaching each of us, and it has been my own experience that his light shines brightly in many of the men and women that have had the misfortune of being incarcerated.
God is Good – All the Time!
The Catholic Diocese of San Diego is a key collaborator with CMN's upcoming Harm, Healing, and Human Dignity Conference, scheduled for October 27, 29, and 31, 2020. Visit the conference website to learn more about ways of cultivating restorative practices within prison ministry and reentry programs. Registration now open.