Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Our pianist, Marian Korth blesses us every time she come to play for our Women's Worship. And then, because she seems to love to write as much as she does make music, she often blesses us again with her weekly blog. This one is all about us!



Thursday, March 27, 2014

A View from a Liaison

Bonnie Block is the liaison representing St. John's Lutheran Church
According to the MALC website:  MALC was formed in 1970 in response to a request by Madison Mayor Otto Festge, who believed that the area's Lutheran Churches could work together to provide common ministry, including serving people incarcerated in the Dane County Jail as well as people worldwide through support of international aid agencies. I realized the "support of international aid agencies" is why MALC coordinates the annual box car loading of quilts for Lutheran World Relief. (For more info and the chaplain's blogs see http://www.malc-online.org/about-us)
Over half of the Jail Ministry is funded through contributions from 43 congregations (ELCA, LCMS and UCC) and the rest through individual gifts and fund raising events like the Quilt Auction and a "Jazz for the Jail" concert (mark your calendars for the 2014 concert on June 8th.) 
There were interesting reports from Chaplains John Mix and Julia Weaver on their work.  Julia also staffs the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project which meets weekly at St. John's.  It is a support group for women just released from the Jail or in the Huber work release program.  We also heard the stories of two people who have been jailed and how the Jail Ministry helped them turn their lives around.  Another speaker was Christa Fisher who is the first ever Clinical Pastoral Education student with MALC.  Also working with the chaplains is Brittany Seyller, a UW-Madison intern with the jail mental health staff.
The Wish List of things needed by inmates is: small packs of colored pencils, composition notebooks for journaling (nothing with spirals), stamped envelopes, stationary items, pencils, current daily readings, recovery books, calendars, reading glasses and greeting cards slipped into the tops of each envelope so no sorting is required. As long as the cold weather lasts the Jail could also use winter coats for people who are being released from the Jail.  Julia is also asking for prayer shawls for women who are going into treatment programs.  You can bring any of these items to the church office at St. John's.  
In closing let me share this prayer/poem included in Julia's written report and compiled from the stated intentions of the Women's Spirituality Group that meets inside the Jail:
Oh God,
I need everything!
To learn to love & be loved
To forgive myself & others
To let go
To remember your favor
To remember that you love me in spite of myself,
Who I am & and what I have done
& in the face of my enemies
May I be mindful
May I listen
May I be open
May I come closer to You
May my faith continue to grow
Put more love & pardon for others in me
Help me practice listening, hearing & discerning
Help me fast for a greater connection with You
Today, may we be safe together
& learn for each other


Friday, February 28, 2014

When Is The Time Right?

Christa Fisher is a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa where she is pursuing her Masters of Divinity Degree. Her studies this semester are focused on women's jail ministry. Under the supervision of Chaplain Julia Weaver, Christa is functioning as a chaplaincy student in the Dane County Jail.

When is the Time Right?
Christa J Fisher

"While confined here in Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities 'unwise and untimely.'" Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr, April 16, 1963

Looking back on the Civil Rights Movement, it is hard to imagine anyone criticizing Martin Luther King Jr's pursuit of justice and equality. Yet he and his colleagues were condemned and rejected by many people including those they believed to be their advocates – liberal whites and economically advantaged blacks. Worried for their safety, security, and comfort, King's "advocates" insisted he was being irrational, risking too much, and acting impetuously. They implored him to stop and wait until a more appropriate time. After weighing the "brutal facts" of racism against the potential consequences of action and inaction, King found himself with "no alternative." Working within the constraints of an unjust system, King did the very best he could with the resources available to him. Despite his great hope and brave actions, he found himself in jail, confined to a cell and labeled a "criminal."

Some may consider it a stretch to compare King's incarceration with that of the men and women residing in our correctional institutions. Yet, according to the law, King was a "criminal." The justice system does not differentiate between the intentions of those who violate the law. If that were the case, King would have never been arrested and our jail and prison populations would be significantly smaller. Like King, the crimes committed by many of the men and women in Dane County Jail are a result of best choices made under tenuous circumstances. Unlike King however, who had a well-organized, educated, and expansive support network, many of the men and women in Dane County are navigating this complex and impersonal system on their own. With limited resources, ineffective support systems, and fading hope, people often end up rationalizing and accepting what would otherwise be unacceptable options. The run-away teen who was forced to choose between returning to an abusive home or trading sex for "safe" shelter; the single-mother who stole groceries when her minimum-wage paying job fell short each month; the man who choose to sell drugs in order to earn money for expensive medical treatments and prescriptions; and the woman who took drugs to numb the pain of unhealed trauma or to medicate untreated mental illness.

Stories like these are common - stories of people who violated the law because they believed they had "no alternative." Each doing the best they could with their limited resources. I'm not suggesting that selling drugs or trading sex are good or noble choices. Rather, I am suggesting the system King endeavored to fix is still broken. A system is broken when people are forced to choose between criminal activities and human rights (food, shelter, health care). A system is broken when people consider sexual exploitation, theft, and drug dealing to be their best options. The system the Civil Rights Movement sought to transform was one which forced King to choose between violating the law and compromising human dignity; a system in which life-threatening, civil disobedience was considered a best option.

When is it wise to strive for justice and equality? When is it timely to persevere on behalf of human dignity? For whose rights do we align ourselves, our time, and our money? According to King, social and civil transformation is necessary anytime "the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair." What do our actions or inactions tell our exhausted and despairing brothers and sisters throughout Dane County who are, at this very moment, considering criminal activity to be their best option? When is it time for us to "wait" no more? When is it wise and timely for us to create systems which support all people, equipping everyone with the resources necessary to truly make the best decisions possible?

Thursday, January 30, 2014


It the beginning of a new year and January has slipped by so quickly.
I always ask the women who participate in worship to do two things this time of year; set an intention and review the jail ministry. Their reponses are striking in a number of ways. Their intentions almost always include sobriety and their families.
In their reviews of how the ministry serves them, they almost always want more; more individual spiritual care, more churches involved in the ministry, more Bible studies & worship opportunities, more guidance for trauma and recovery, more literature, more thanksgiving, more prayer. The more says to me that they realize the opportunities and resources we provide and recognize the gift of it all. But they are hungry for even more! The challenge for myself, the ministry, the churches, the community is, can we do more?
This past year we have benefited and grown from having our own graphic designer, Cara Erickson. We have a new logo and the website has been renewed. We have new ideas for 2014.
 We have a new co-facilitator for our Women's Beginnings Group. Brittany Seyller is a UW-Madison intern with the mental health staff at the jail. She has already become an asset and inspiration for our group.
Christa Fisher will be our first ever Clinical Pastoral Education student. She will be co-facilitating the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project and Women's Worship. She too instantly began to use her gifts and is an inspirational presence.
With new ideas and new people we can improve and expand!
Improvement comes from a surrender of will to GOD, a willingness of self-change. Each of us is different, however we have shared intent.  Michelle

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Faith, Hope and Love

As we pass through this Christmas season I ask you to remember that this is the most difficult time of the year to be incarcerated. The following is from a young woman in our Women's Spirituality Group who had a desire to share her story & her name; from Ashley.
In 2008 I had a daughter I named Lacy. Throughout my pregnancy I struggle with addiction and became very dependent on pain pills. I was on probation and to avoid going to jail, put myself in rehab. While at this treatment facility I was put on methadone. Unaware at the time that opiate withdrawal is very dangerous to an unborn baby and can cause early labor and sometimes death, I ended up getting angry and tried to leave treatment but due to the fact that I would be putting my child in danger. My probation officer had me put in jail on a hold. I stayed in jail until my daughter was born. She was born very addicted to methadone and had to stay in the hospital for a week to be weaned off of it. So while my brand new baby was in ICU I had to go back to jail. My cousin got my daughter from the hospital when she was healthy enough to leave. I was very fortunate my probation officer offered me Alternative to Revocation to a half-way house called ARC. One of their houses is MIP, Mother and Infant Program and it is for mothers with children under the age of 1. My baby was one month old when she and I went to MIP. I did well there for about 5 ½ months and ended up self-sabotaging and left the program. Lacy was with her father and I went on a week long relapse. I got arrested, went back to jail, got revoked on my probation and ended up being in jail for another 3 months. While in jail my daughter's father took me to court and got full custody and full placement of our daughter. I was allowed visits with her after getting out  of jail. I saw her a few times but I, once again, allowed my addiction to take over my life and stopped going to my visits. Lacy was 9 months old at the time.
That was over 4 years ago. This October, prior to my incarceration, Lacy turned 5 years old. I had contacted her grandmother on Facebook and was staying in contact with her via phone. She told me she was going to give me a chance and be there for me but if I messed up this time she was done with me. She told me how my daughter talked about me even though she doesn't remember me but wants her mommy. I came back to jail 2 weeks later. I thought for sure my daughter's grandma was done with me. I couldn't believe I had done it again; the demons of addiction beat me another time. I was in jail about 3 weeks and tried to get her address. I knew the town and I knew what street she lived on but I wasn't sure what the house number was. She had told me when we spoke on the phone so I had a number in mind but I was not positive. I decided to take a chance and mail a letter to the address I thought it was. I sat down and wrote her a 10 page letter. I told her about my entire life, all the way from childhood to my life as a adult. I shared things with her that very few people know and some secrets I've never shared. I told her my trials and tribulations, abuse I've suffered, pain I've endured. I was for once, 100% honest. I mailed the letter and prayed it would reach her and prayed she would give me another chance. Having been in jail a little over a month at this time and not speaking to her, I felt like she would not respond or if she did it would be a very angry letter. I prayed about it and knew no matter what ended up happening it was in God' hands.
Approximately a week after I mailed that letter I went to church service. I hadn't thought about the letter except to tell a fellow inmate that it felt good to get all that off my chest and that I was at peace with my situation and where I was. Although physically I was not in a good place, mentally I was in an amazing place so ultimately it didn't matter where my body was. So here I am sitting in church, typical Thursday night mass and sometimes I struggle with receiving the message or paying attention to what the pastor is saying. A lot of times I'm just there going through the motions. Not this time though, this particular night the service was about our Savior's mother, Mary. As the service went on, Father told all of us women how blessed we all are as women to be have the gift within us to give and carry life. How we all need to love and respect our bodies because of the amazing gift God has given us. He also said how women are natural mothers; that it is within our souls. It was a really good service and it made me think a lot about how neglectful I have been to my  children and how I want to be a better mother.
The very next morning I received a response to the letter I wrote to my daughter's grandmother. I read the letter and cried so hard because she told me she would be there for me to help me through this and support me with anything I need. She had some great words of encouragement. She also told me how sad it made her to hear Lacy talk about  her mom and not even know who I am. When I finished reading the letter I looked at the envelope and realized the address I  put on the letter I mailed was way off. A few of the people in my cell block said the postal worker must have known the name and that's how the letter got there. I believe God made sure she received that letter, that God heard my prayers and answered them. I also believe God wanted me to hear that church service the night before so when I  received that letter I wouldn't take it for granted and open my eyes to the precious gift I have been given, the ability to give life!
Spirit of God
So bright and so strong
I've longed for You so very long
To feel Your love unconditional and true
I know I can have it if I believe in You
If I trust Your Word and  follow Your path
You will walk with me and forgive my past
My faith will grow strong and guide me through
Joy will come naturally into my life
For You are the one that can relieve my strife
Spirit of God
So bright and so strong
I now know You were with me all along!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Healthy Boundaries

            I had the privilege of  attending this workshop sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches through the FaithTrust Institute. It confirmed for me the importance of being present to our attitudes and actions in this ministry. The interweaving of presentation and conversation provided time to learn and reflect. Their mission and purpose include:
                FaithTrust Institute provides faith communities and advocates with the tools and
    And knowledge they need to address the faith and cultural issues related to abuse.
     For more than 35 years, FaithTrust Institute has continued to  envision a world
                where abuse is not tolerated, religious communities are trustworthy and justice
                and healing are truly experience.
Because the majority of the women I see are struggling with some abuse issue  the information and support from this workshop was essential and I would recommend it highly. Our discussions reminded me of the  following poem.  As difficult as it may be to read and hear, I believe  it speaks clearly to the struggle that persists after abuse has been experienced. It also concludes with the hope that healing is possible.


Our Story

They say everybody has a story, but you don't see us on any talk show
And when his manhood was taken before he was ten,
I bet no one cared to know
Or her with her smile so bright,
Did you know that her father came into her room at night?
And the guy across the street so sweet,
Did you know that he was sodomized and beat?
It was by his mother and not his father,
And no one seemed to bother when they heard him scream and holler
Like the girl that was raped by her beau and his guy
And all I can remember saying is why and why?
So when you see us one day all confused and sad
And just can't figure out why we're acting so mad
Take a seat and listen to  what we've been through
And all I gotta say is you better be lucky it didn't happen to you
But wait, we're not feeling sorry for ourselves
And that's not what we want you to do
We just want to let you know that in spite of everything we made it
So then that means that you can make it too.
By Sara
peace, hope & gratitude, Julia

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Beauty & Beginnings

At our September board meeting, member Karin Wells shared a devotion that showed a grasp of the deep struggles of jail ministry. The following are excerpts.
…pastoral theology can be seen as an art that seeks to uncover and communicate the beauty of God and the creation in the face of experiences and situations that would deny both. (Emmanuel Y. Lartey) This could be a description of the experience of being incarcerated; the 'experiences and situations that deny the beauty of God and creation'. Once the women I work with begin to move through that denial, they see a glimmer of hope that change is possible and new beginnings beckon. Karin's chosen prayer so movingly described it:
…Help me to make beginnings:
To begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;      
To begin forgiving
            that I may experience mercy;
To begin questioning the unquestionable
            that I may know truth;
To begin disciplining
            that I may create beauty;
To begin sacrificing
            that I may accomplish justice;
To begin risking
            that I may make peace;
To begin loving
            that I may realize joy.
And for Chaplain John and myself:
Help me to be a beginning for others,
            to be a singer to the songless,
            a storyteller to the aimless,
            a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
            of assurance for the doubting,
            of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
            of comfort for the sorrowing,
            of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
            of sweetness for the soured,
             of gentleness for the angry,
             of wholeness for the broken,
             of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth. (Ted Loder)
I am so grateful for those who understand and support this jail ministry and the work of beauty and beginnings. Peace and gratitude, Julia
Websites I am connected with: