By Lauren Cabral
The Cove Herald
Prisoners are not commonly considered as needy, or even worthy, of volunteers' time and efforts, but John Gilluly of Austin, who has been visiting and ministering to inmates for more than 10 years, thinks otherwise.
"It's a society that people have written off," he said. "Overall, I think the ministry gives inmates direction in their life. And hope. Hope probably more than anything else."
That hope is a powerful tool, according to Deacon Doots Dufour, director of the Criminal Justice Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin. He cites numbers of repeat offenders as the reason a stronger spiritual presence is needed in prisons, saying religion may go farther than any other preventive measure.
"Most of these people need treatment more than anything else," he said. "These guys like Christian fellowship. They've got nothing else up there and they sure need that."
It is with this in mind that Dufour has organized Catholic ministries to visit many of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's 39 units in the Austin Diocese, which spans from West to San Marcos and includes 125 parishes in 25 Central Texas counties.
There is still a need for Catholics to visit the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, though, and he is calling on Copperas Cove citizens to fill that need. He visited Holy Family Catholic Church on Jan. 30 and he'll return at 7 p.m. Monday to discuss details with those interested.
"Other units have priests going everywhere except Mountain View," he said, noting that volunteers from Copperas Cove are being sought because of its proximity to Gatesville. He also said that evangelical groups have a presence at the unit, which Jason Clark, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed.
Clarke said a variety of people from evangelical churches in the area visit Mountain View, as well as American Indians and Islam representatives. A chaplain holds services on Sundays for two to four hours.
Dufour said he'd like the Catholic presence at the prison to increase. The priests who used to visit the unit have transferred out of the area.
Now Dufour wants to bring not only bring a priest, but a corps of volunteers to pray the rosary and give communion to inmates, as well as hear confessions or just simply listen to what prisoners have to say.
"These people are just hung out to dry up there and it's a brutal system," he said. "They're very grateful when people come in and spend some time with them."
The Mountain View Unit sits on 97 acres about four miles north of Gatesville on Ransom Road. It holds more than 600 female prisoners and is watched over by 235 prison employees. It is also home to Texas' only female death row.
Dufour said some people are timid about Mountain View out of pure fear.
"But that's immature," he said, noting volunteers would work only with the general prison population, not the handful of death row inmates.
Dufour said he has visited prisons for 25 years and had done 150 prison retreats and has never had any problems.
"For every one that would hurt you there are about 10 guys that won't let that happen," he said. Most people in the prison system are nonviolent, he added.
Even so, Gilluly said he realized why people would have reservations about volunteering at prisons.
"It's not for everyone, it truly is not," he said. "You have to be open and you have to be absolutely nonjudgmental."
"They know what they've done, we're not in there in any way to judge or have anything to do with why they are there," he added. "We respect them as human beings as the church teaches us."
One couple has volunteered at prisons across the state since the 1980s.
"It's a very rewarding experience," said Alice Moldanado. "Of course we do have a lot of the prisoners that do not know much about the church…That's a good feeling to know that we're bringing God to them."
Alice and her husband, Juan, began visiting the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center in 1985, as well as Giddings State School, a TYC facility, monthly.
The couple has spent many years working in the court system - Juan at the juvenile court and Alice at the Texas Youth Commission and other state agencies for troubled youth.
"I have always worked in places where I worked with these people," Alice said. In fact, her job is what got her to start volunteering.
After arranging for a young runaway girl to be delivered back to her parents in another state, the girl committed suicide in the detention center she was in.
"That's always been on my mind," Alice said. "I felt like that was the calling for me."
Juan also has personal ties to his volunteer work. He is the oldest of eight brothers, two of which have been to prison. He said many prisoners seek to change their lives, including his brother, who was inspired to return to prison after his release to talk about his faith.
"They have faith, and God works in a lot of ways," Juan said.
The couple said no prisoner is forced to join them; instead, an announcement is made when groups come, and any prisoner who wants to attend discussions may do so.
"The ones that have been there for a long time and know you come, they look for you," Alice said. "We get letters every now and then from some of the prisoners expressing appreciation for us being there and saying how they would like to turn around their lives and do better. That's a good feeling."
Contact Lauren Cabral at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.