Archive for the ‘Prison Ministry’ Category

Sojourners Social Justice Blog on Hiatus

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Our SJ Blog is currently not being updated. For information about what’s happening at Sojourners UCC, please visit our website: or our Facebook page:


Monday, April 9th, 2012

Our next Social Justice Sunday May 6 is a chance for all of our Social Justice groups to meet after worship. If you’d like to learn more about what these groups are working on currently, please put this date on your calendar and join us.


Thursday, March 8th, 2012

 All Sojourners Social Justice groups are encouraged to meet after the service, March 11. If you’re new to the church, or simply haven’t attended any of these meetings yet, please feel free to drop in on one (or more!) that day.


Monday, February 20th, 2012

Recently we attended a funeral at our former church of a beloved member of the Prison Ministry.  Cherry also was there and it was wonderful to see him and catch up with him.

His wife Thelma had died two years ago.  He still can barely talk about her passing without crying.  She was his anchor in the world that he had left for 25 years and was now getting to know again.  He has been in grief counseling which helps a little…

He has maintained the same job of being an HIV counselor and finds it still a rewarding experience.  The good news is that he was released from parole because of his work ethic and adaptation to life on the outside.  Now he can travel outside of New York State and does not have to worry about being late for a meeting with his parole officer.  There are hundreds of random bits of behavior which can get a person sent back to prison.

Cherry has relatives in Virginia Beach and we hope at some point he can visit us and come to Sojourners.

Barbara & Warren Brecht

Social Justice Sunday

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The next one will be January 8.  All of Sojourners Social Justice groups are encouraged to meet after the service. If you’re new to the church, or simply haven’t attended any of these meetings yet, please feel free to drop in on one (or more!) that day.

Meaningful Experiences with People in Prison

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

What follows is the last of the reflections shared by Sojourners at our Prison Ministry Social Justice worship service in the fall.

#1- When it was found out that I was pregnant they transferred me to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. I was no longer allowed to work (due to DOC’s fear of the pending lawsuit and anything else happening to me) which meant that I was unable to buy food. Being pregnant and not having food is a scary and painful situation to find oneself in. It had been about six years since I resided at this facility. I didn’t know any of the other women. And was apprehensive due to everything that was going on and all of the horrible things that were being said. So, I just tried to ignore our hunger. Well, eventually, I met a group of women that were beyond wonderful. They were kind and supportive and genuinely interested in mine and Desiree’s well being. So, one canteen day, they went (without my knowledge) cell door to cell door asking people for food. They then brought me a canteen bag full of food and a large trash bag full of food. Free of charge and no strings attached. They just wanted me to be able to eat. And I ate off of that gift for about two months.

#2- I knew of Lynn Litchfield (Chaplain Litchfield) back in 1999 when FCCW first opened. I didn’t see her again until the end of 2005. I was terrified of the position that I was in. And finally needed someone to talk to. I asked to see her. When I walked into her office and sat down I asked her if she remembered me or knew who I was. She said “no.” She told me that she didn’t watch tv or read the newspaper. Needless to say, I was so grateful for that. I spent five months speaking with her and going to church. She was the one that introduced me to Karen and Jeanine, the village, and Sojourners. Through one of most uncertain, scary, and painful times in my life she became my best friend. She was in the operating room with me when Desiree was born.(Desiree calls her “Aunt Lynn.”) And that is something that neither one of us will ever forget. She was always so genuinely caring, sincere, honest, and just amazing.

#3- This last story doesn’t really involve any one particular person or event. It is just an overall memory… When I first went to prison I was scared that it would be like the prisons that you see on tv. It’s not really that way at all. Sure there are mean people. But, for the most part its just people like you and me. One thing that I learned while in there was how to relate and really feel what the next person is going through. To empathize and humanize. These women are someones’ daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, best friend, and mother. There were numerous nights when the roommate that I had at the time and I would stay up all night just talking and healing. Just trying to figure things out, move on, and make a plan to keep ourselves from ever coming back.There were many times when the spades game gave way to someone’s loneliness and heartbreak. We would just stop what we were doing and be there for that friend. For as long as they needed. That was one nice thing about being in there…there was no telephone ringing, no errands to run, no urgency in anything.We had the time to just listen.I can honestly say that I have met and lived with some of the absolute best women in the world behind bars. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss and think about those friends that I left almost five years ago.

Thank you for letting me share some of these with you.

Sheron Sinclair



Passionate Ministries

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

The following is from a volunteer at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women shared with the congregation during our Prison Ministry Social Justice service in late October.

How do you live to be 100 years old? Dr. Phil had a one-word answer in the discussion that followed, “Passion.” Work with the incarcerated can quickly become a passion.

My passions involve challenges. I had known nothing of prison work. Even when my daughter went into prison work, I went, “What? What is all this!”

The challenge of it motivates me to prayer, serious prayer. It has lead me to use many of the ideas I find in the worship here, to use them in the Sunday night prison worship service, ideas from the morning worship bulletin as well as ideas from the sermons. It leads me to a closer fellowship with other Sojourners, even sojourners with a small “s.”

I prayed to broaden and deepen my scope of preparation for my prison work, prepare in every way possible. I pray on the way to the prison. When I arrive, pray some more to know what part of the preparation to employ, and even to give up all the preparation for the needs of the moment.

The passion also involves rewards. The rewards are many as one gets glimpses of God’s work in the lives of others and as one finds a challenge of spiritual growth in one’s own life.

I live with the challenge from an incarcerated woman whom I visited in the infirmary just after she had come back from the hospital having had major surgery. The doctors had ordered her to walk the hall twice daily. The officer on duty was required to permit her out of her cell for this purpose each day. Day after day the officer for the infirmary refused to allow her to follow those doctor’s orders. It could have eased her recovery. Day after day she sat in her cell and prayed about her predicament.

Then she remembered that she had been in the military herself. Through prayer she took a new attitude toward that unreasonable and unfair officer. She concluded, “I could have been that officer!” She gave me a fresh understanding for, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I thoroughly appreciate being here among all the lay ministers. You have so many ministries, so many passions here. This church embodies and emboldens passionate ministries. Thank you for your passionate ministries.

Sarah Litchfield


Ava’s Story

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

This is another installment in the stories shared during our Prison Ministry Social Justice service.

It started with Sheron and Desi. And visits to Fluvanna Women’s Prison. And preparing for Sheron’s homecoming. And joining Joan and Dell at Albemarle/Charlottesville Regional Jail in providing career counseling to inmates.

Then as a Case Manager for the Workforce Investment Act. That program served adults who received food stamps and/or lived below the poverty level. With an active case load of 60 adult clients, over 50% had criminal convictions, most of them felonies. All clients had done their time. All had been trying to make it in a particularly bad economy in a community that was looking for job candidates with higher levels of experience, education and NO criminal record. A presenting situation frought with disappointment and frustration.

My clients were people like you and me. People who couldn’t undo what they had done. With regrets and heavy burdens. With financial woes. With hopes and dreams. Some with families. And while Charlottesville is now known as the City of Second Chances for ex-felons, removing barriers to employment and preventing recidivism will be a major undertaking for years to come.

Through the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, there is a Prisoner Re-Entry Committee that has been active in getting the Second Chance Resolution passed by the City Council. It was instrumental in the first Re-entry Summit which was held in April and attended by a many ex-offenders. That Committee arranged for a panel discussion of prison literature “The New Jim Crow”, by Michelle Alexander, that was taped and runs on our local TV channel. In the weeks ahead, it will publish a resource guide to be provided to ex-offenders as they are released into our community. Governor McDonnell has embraced change for ex-offenders and has charged committees at the state level to tackle some of the most difficult issues. Local governments are participating as well.

Sticking my nose into all of this has caused me some surprise. The issues facing ex-offenders are situations that I can embrace and want to do something about. I don’t recall giving my voice to other programs for which I volunteered. I can empathize with an ex-offenders reality. I learned:

1. If I have been convicted of a felony, all court costs and fines that I owe will be held against my drivers’ license. Until I pay those fines, usually in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars, I cannot drive, but must rely on friends, family, taxi or bus to get me to and from. If I live in the city, my job location must be somewhere on the bus line or I’ll need to walk. If I rely on public transportation or JAUNT to get me to work, I will be late many times, and may lose my job as a result.

2. If my family resides in public housing, the nature of my conviction may bar me from living with or even visiting my family. This may be the only place I can call home, so I couch surf, live at the Salvation Army if beds are available, or live on the streets. If I take the chance of visiting my family, I may wind up back in jail.

3. I may be on parole or probation and if so, must report to my parole or probation officer. If I fail to find employment 90 days after my release, I will have violated my parole and wind up back in jail.

4. If my conviction was drug related, I will not be eligible to receive food stamps.

5. If I am not a high school graduate and did not pursue a GED while incarcerated, chances of my getting employment are slim to none.

6. My conviction(s) will preclude me from being considered for professions in which the crime was a barrier crime. That list is long.

7. I might have a valid drivers’ license and a junker automobile, but upkeep, insurance and the price of gas, makes me crazy. If I don’t have a job, I don’t drive. If I can afford the auto, I can’t afford the child care costs so that I can hold down a job, buy groceries and provide for my family.

8. As an ex-offender I can’t vote unless I go through a laborious, painful process. If I had been released in California, I could vote on the day of my release.

9. Going back is easier than staying out.

Prisons are big business and more are being built to warehouse members of our community. The number of people who are incarcerated has grown exponentially over the past 25 years. Racism is alive and well as proven by the statistics that show the majority of individuals who are incarcerated are African-Americans. Are we as a people engaged in “The New Jim Crow”? Just how far have we come?

My time and energy spent with those who are incarcerated and with those who are back in our community has been an important part of my life. Should you have an interest in becoming involved in prisoner re-entry in some small way, please speak with me.

Ava Baum

My Prison Story

Monday, November 14th, 2011

I remember the first time I went into a jail—Cook County Jail, in Chicago, IL, one of the largest jails in the world. I was an 18-year-old student at a Bible college, and a group of us boldly went regularly to the jail. We believed the prisoners were unsaved and that we needed to “win them for Christ” and help them get converted. I was there to help them, bring them a blessing, and help save their souls from hell.

Some years later, my husband, now a chaplain at CCJ, started a school for prisoners. I facilitated a Bible discussion group every Friday night, bringing in and training other volunteers. By now, I had been changed by the very people I had been seeking to change.  In seeking to bless, I became blessed.

I learned that the people in jail were much more like me and other volunteers than they were different from us. Of course, our circumstances were different and maybe we had made different kinds of mistakes. But, I found they became my friends, and I enjoyed sharing my life with them and having them share their lives with me. Several times, we had former prisoners live in our home. We had a slogan, “The worst part of going to jail is getting out.” That’s because housing and jobs were so difficult for these mostly severely disadvantaged youth from Chicago’s inner city.

Over the past half century, I have had the privilege of going into jails/prisons all over the U.S., training volunteers, conducting seminars, teaching classes, and meeting one-on-one and writing Bible studies, plays for prisoners, and training manuals for volunteers.

I have always found prisoners to be gracious, cooperative, positively responsive, grateful for any assistance, and truly happy to have people visit them. Most of them are like the people in this room. It has always been a great joy for me to go into a jail/prison, despite the depressing surroundings and circumstances.

I urge you to take advantage of volunteer opportunities at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail and at Fluvanna Prison. You will be blessed beyond measure.

Dell Erwin


Pen Pal

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Here’s the second in our series of personal reflections shared during our Prison Ministry Social Justice Sunday service

My friend Heidi was very active in prison ministry at the church we had recently joined.  She said she had too many people to correspond with and asked me if I would like to write to one of her friends.  I agreed, and started a correspondence with a person in prison in Arizona.

This man and I corresponded for more than a year.  I would write to him and would get a letter back immediately, always putting me in the position of feeling I was behind in my correspondence.  I remember receiving from him an Easter card and a Thanksgiving card—the only two I ever got.  I knew he had robbed a bank with his brother who was also in the prison.  He had written that after robbing the bank, something happened but he couldn’t remember what.

Basically, he said his life was extremely boring and he really wanted to know all about my life.  I was going to seminary at the time so I wrote about my studies and my family.  He always wrote back with positive comments about what I was doing.

I had not heard from him in about two months and was driving in my car listening to a newscast.  An item came on that a man in Arizona had been executed and the German government was protesting because the victim held dual citizenship with the US and Germany.  It was my pen pal!  I pulled over and started shaking and crying.  I did not know he had been facing death.  Never has the death penalty seemed more senseless and cruel and wasteful.

Barbara Brecht