Friday, May 13, 2016

Joe Paddock: "Prison Ministry Creates an Oasis in Jail"

by Rodrigo Llorente, SSJ

Since September of 2015 students of Mount Angel Seminary started working in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Every Tuesday and Thursday seminarians from Mount Angel Seminary drive to the prison to carry on activities of evangelization and formation inside the prison. Joe Paddock, a seminarian for the Diocese of Helena, was interviewed on his experience and impressions on his time of ministry in the prison.

When Mount Angel students arrive at the prison, they go through multiple check stations, where they are scrutinized due to security reasons. Paddock shared about the place: “It's cold and sterile. It's weird, when you go the bar gate opens and then closes behind you and then you have this guy asking questions: what are you bringing in there?  They have to make questions but you are not used to this. The assumption there almost is that you are doing something wrong until you prove that you are not. I suppose they want to make that stance because they want to make it a safe place.”

After going through several bar gates they arrive to the room where they hold their meetings. Paddock was surprised by the inmates’ reaction to them: “Once I got in the room my impression was immediate acceptance. The guys are just incredible! They are very on fire and they are very hungry. They’ve been praying for us at least for a month before we even got there!”

Paddock highlights the heroic faith of these men: “These guys a lot of times are persecuted because they are faithful. Some of them are amazing. What do they do when they go back to their cell? They read the Catechism. There is one guy that is studying Greek and translating. They have a lot of prayers books.  They are studying the Bible and they hold them as precious gifts that they got from our group. And they are really devout. A lot of the other prisoners look at them and think how these guys think that they are holier than us! It’s tough for them to be faithful. I have a lot of admiration for these men.”

The meetings consist in a communion service followed by a catechetical session. Paddock really values the opportunities for talking one-on-one with prisoners:  “Sometimes a guy has a tough day so we go out in the hall to talk. They need to take something out of their chest because there is a lot of bad stuff going on there. This is clearly an oasis for them. Away from all that! Is a beautiful time where they can relax.”

When asked about what has impacted Joe the most, a word quickly popped up: “Conversion. These guys had hit rock bottom and now they have opened their hearts to Christ.”

This impacted his way of viewing and approaching the prisoners: “These people look like good people that made a mistake and now they are atoning for them. To really get to know these guys on a personal level made me take a really humble approach and seeing them as children of God.”

Paddock testifies with confidence about God’s action in the prison: “It is amazing what Christ is doing in these people’s lives. We receive 10 times more that those guys get from us.”

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