Sitting in a white cinder-block classroom among religious posters, Linda Jaramillo told everyone they should probably stop hugging prisoners, even if it seemed counter intuitive.
Based on her brother’s experience in a California prison, Jaramillo was concerned that Holy Family Catholic Church’s Saint Dismas Prison Ministry would be shut down because of it. Hugging prisoners is against the rules at the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Gatesville.
Her brother, who was in a Catholic ministry, told her about his experience.
“He said, ‘That program was going for 10 years, and all the kind of stuff that you guys do, that was all happening and all of a sudden one day, because a guard said something, they ended it,’” Jaramillo said.
The “stuff” going on would seem relatively miniscule to most people — sitting next to someone while talking to them, hugging, sending a bookmark, writing a letter in colored ink — but they are small rule violations that could put the prison ministry program in jeopardy.
A group of more than 25 members of Holy Family have made the trek to Gatesville’s prison for about three years. Those three years were spent gaining the female inmates’ trust, members said.
The prisoners were used to abandoned, inconsistent or a few volunteer programs, especially Catholic services, said Becky Simpson, a member of prison ministry, whose brother is also incarcerated.
The members now put on a Mass and offer several classes to introduce inmates to their religion. A priest goes once a month to take confession.
“It’s amazing what the inmates share,” Simpson said. “They are so spiritual. Many of them have very long sentences. They have a lot of time to read their Bibles, so they are very knowledgeable. They are very open with their faith.”
Jaramillo said many of the inmates don’t have visitors. Through the years, ministry members started hugging and sitting closely to the inmates because they don’t get a lot of close contact. Phone calls can cost a dollar a minute, which can be costly for family members contributing spending money to prisoner accounts. So sometimes the women don’t get many phone calls either.
“I know I want someone to do this for my brother in California, because I’m not there,” Jaramillo said, referring to both the Catholic services the ministry offers and the fellowship volunteers give inmates.
“We know how important it is for them to have someone come in and share their faith,” Simpson said.
For information about Holy Family Catholic Church’s Saint Dismas Prison Ministry’s contact the diocese of Austin’s Deacon Generes “Doots” Dufour at 512-949-2462.