May 27, 2022

Corrections Corner / Richard Hoying

It’s time to re-engage with society through volunteering

Richard HoyingThe past two years have been a story of burnout, overwork and mass exodus in the compassionate care and spiritual care professions. Adding to the pressures, volunteers were not allowed to assist the professionals in the health care, elder care, and prison visitation ministries. As we come out of the pandemic, now is the time to consider joining or rejoining the volunteer work force.

One of the challenges facing volunteer services is the loss of momentum, the loss of people to both perform and to organize the work.

In two years, we lost a large number of caring people to illness, physical mobility issues and death. Sadly, prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has lost a shining light and founding member, Teresa Batto. Teresa was a small woman with a giant compassionate spirit, a living embodiment of chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew.

We are all familiar with the commands of Mt 25:31-46. There is a rhythm to its Gospel lessons. Earlier verses of that chapter (Mt 25:14-30) are the parable of the talents. Clearly, we are being asked to make use of and share our God-given talents with the poor, with the ailing and with prisoners.

This column is a request for volunteers in prison visitation. One might ask, do I have the talent for prison ministry? Yes, you do! What is needed is that you be yourself. Be genuine. If you’ll pardon the pun, what prisoners most long for is a time of “unguarded” conversation with a person from the outside.

“George,” one of the prisoners I visit, calls the one-hour monthly visit a brief trip to an island.

The next question: is it safe to visit?  Yes, extremely. Volunteer training is provided through both the federal prison and through the Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) organizations. PVS organizes and instructs volunteers in prisoner visitation in the federal prison system. Visiting is a privilege, and one that the inmate would not risk losing.

Finally, and probably the largest unknown for a visit, what will we talk about? I have found conversations flow easily. Those who I have visited are interested in the everyday relationships, worries and activities that are a part of my personal life. Inmates wish they were able to be free to have those responsibilities and be bothered by those frustrations.  Also, I have found that each has very deep insights into human and spiritual relationships, and each is able to communicate those insights. I continue to learn so much.

I will be doing my best in taking over the coordinator’s role for volunteers at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary. The need is great, and now there is a long waiting list that has grown during the two years of COVID. Perhaps your own work/life situation has changed in the past two years. Please consider volunteering your time and talents.

(Richard Hoying is a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville.) †

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