Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22

A gift of light on the longest night!
From Marion Korth's blog:
I experienced another God-wink last week. It was Thursday afternoon and I was in the county jail to play the piano for the women's worship service. There were nine of us sitting in a circle in the chapel - the chaplain, myself, and seven inmates. After we read the Scriptures for the day, we went around the circle, each woman telling us what today's readings meant to her, or sharing whatever else was on her mind.

     When it was my turn, I talked about the wonderful Christmas Carol Sing-along we had had at Whispering Winds the previous Sunday afternoon. I described what it was like to have a group of 21 people gathered together at our retreat house, singing Christmas carols for a couple hours, and enjoying the anticipation of once again celebrating the birth of the Christ Child and God's love for us.

     One of the women asked me several questions about what Whispering Winds is like, and then asked me if I knew about another retreat center not far from Madison. At first I said no, that I didn't. But then, as she described it, I realized she was talking about my niece's home. My niece and her husband have a remodeled farmhouse and a large beautifully landscaped yard that they use for various church groups and youth camping events. My niece and her husband are foster parents and have adopted three of the children they have cared for. One of them is this woman's son. All nine of us sitting around the circle were amazed at this God-wink - the what a small world it is discovery.

     This woman has been in and out of jail several times over the past ten years. When she saw how lovingly my niece and her husband cared for children in their home, and when she learned that they were willing to adopt her son, she made one of the toughest decisions of her life. She decided to forfeit her parental rights so that her son could become their son. She knew that she would not be able to care for him for the next year or two while she served time in prison. She loved her son so much that she wanted what would be best for him, even if it meant sacrificing her parental rights.

     She asked me to be sure to tell my niece that we met, and to let them know how thankful she is that they have adopted her son, and that they are letting her still be involved in his life. She is hoping to be able to send them all a Christmas card this week.

     When I talked with my niece about this God-wink she said God's ability to put pieces together is truly amazing. She said that they have been praying for God's protection for her. She has a wonderful heart, but keeps getting pulled back into trouble, despite her best intentions.

     We are now in the fourth week of Advent. The theme for this week is love. Can you imagine a love so great that a mother would give up her parental rights for the good of the child? Or, can you imagine a God who loves us so much that He gave His Son for us? As the Bible says, Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
[I Corinthians 13:13 NRSV]

     Once again, God's love is made visible in jail.

Check it out!!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December blog

 And You turned my mourning into dancing;
You set me free & clothed me with gladness.
My soul rejoices & is glad in You; songs of gratitude fill my soul rising up to You,
O Beloved.
Psalm 30:11&12 Psalms for Praying from Nan C. Merrill
In spite of several tragic deaths of young women very close to this ministry and the effects of difficult economic times on the people this ministry serves, these verses speak to me at the close of 2011. We have deeply mourned the losses and yet are still able to dance our praise of the One Who brings us through it all into the blessings. Felicia Jones is one of those who bless. Felicia spoke at our annual meeting in 2010. I consistently hear from women who have been at the ARC treatment house that Felicia has ministered to them in her own special way. When she can, she stops by to share in the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project,  Currently, she is attending MATC and still sings praises that God provided the Jail Ministry at a time when she needed it most. She is citing us in her next class paper. We are indeed set free from our despair and clothed with gladness!

Check it out!!!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

December 16Th!!!  7:00

Volunteer Holiday Party

We will gather at John's house this year

to share our gratitude and stories

of this unique & special jail ministry

serving Dane County.


You have been a part of that

& we want to celebrate together.

Call for directions: 266-4573 or 261-9755



Julia & John


Check it out!!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Joys, griefs and the struggles of life. Sacred scriptures are often the source of great comfort, particularly for those who are incarcerated. Bibles, Qurans and other scriptures are available and provide a quiet, meditative reading experience that, ironically, is sometimes easier to find while incarcerated rather than in the stress of daily life on the outside. But for some they find their way to create that space and it is good!  The following is a reflection from a young woman who is living her life on the outside with all its joys, griefs and struggles:
i came across hosea around a month ago as my usual verses became so common to my mind that they turned to something like background noise (this, it seems, doesn't happen to everyone i guess, but my mind has funny tendencies --- "funny" not necessarily bad).  anyhow, the most striking to me is the beginning of the verse:
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely,... (i hear hope, compassion)  NIV
...for my anger has turned away from them. (i hear forgiveness, grace)
the whole timeless is our struggle.
thank you for letting me share this...i have long found strength in the scriptures and as time passes, more are revealed as necessary.  it is difficult, at times, given my---um--history to share such thoughts.  many people are quick to judge another's walk with god.  to which i can only say were it not for my walk, i would have long been dead.  the miracles along the way i can only give thanks and give to others the same " compassion?" i have been shown.
It is good.
Check it out!!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I would like to share again the blog from one of our two worship organists, Marian Korth:
 "This I know."
     Last Thursday I went to the county jail again to play the piano for the women's worship service. After the usual worship and sharing time, the chaplain invited the women to share in communion. This is the first time I have participated in a jail service in which communion has been offered.
     Before we shared the bread and wine (grape juice), the chaplain asked us to go around the circle, and for each one of us to tell the group what communion means to us personally. The first woman said she didn't know what communion is. Another woman said communion makes her think about Jesus dying on the cross. The woman sitting on my right said that she never got to have her first communion. Her older sister did, but her family moved before she was old enough to have hers.
     When it was my turn, I said communion reminds me of how much God loves me, and that as a church organist, I'm usually playing the piano or organ during communion, and I try to play music that will prompt people to think about how much God loves them, too. One inmate piped up with "Jesus Loves Me. That says it all. I love that song. We sang it last time."
Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.
     That reminded me of the first time I played for an old-fashioned hymn sing in a church, almost 20 years ago. I had been surprised when a 90-year-old woman called out "Jesus Loves Me" as the song she wanted us to sing. I am no longer surprised by that request. Almost every hymn sing I play for, that song is requested, by people of all ages. That song really does say it all. God loves us. "This I know."
The singing of Jesus Loves Me was followed by This Little Light of Mine. For those women who were raised in the church these songs are very emotional reminders that there is hope!  They are loved, forgivable and can again be a shining light. I am so grateful for the organists that help us bring these songs into the jail with such beauty in sound. peace, Julia
Check it out!!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


While there are some variations in the order of worship and reading of scripture, one of the organists shares her testimony about worship at the Dane County Jail in her blog,
"Testimony" – That's a word I haven't thought much about until recently.  Wikipedia defines "testimony" as: In law and religion, testimony is a solemn attestation to the truth of a matter.

     My earliest association with the word "testimony" goes back to my growing-up Methodist days. On Sunday evenings, our church had an informal service that began with a time of singing and testimonies. We would sing about a dozen gospel songs, interspersed with people standing up to give their testimony – telling the congregation about when they became a Christian or about how God was helping them get through whatever "trial" they were facing at the time.

     Now, after 50 years, the word "testimony" is creeping back into my mind. For the past several months I've been volunteering at the county jail a couple times a month. I play the piano for the women's worship service in the chapel of the jail. When it's time for the worship service, a guard escorts anywhere from two to a dozen inmates into the chapel. The women sit on chairs arranged in a circle. The guard leaves, slides the door shut, and locks it. Worship begins. The chaplain welcomes everyone and explains the rules – everything said in chapel stays in chapel. The chaplain introduces the theme for the day in about two or three minutes. Then we sing a hymn. The women sing enthusiastically, whatever the hymn, but their favorite is "Amazing Grace." I accompany the singing from the piano, then return to the circle.

     Next comes the time to read Scripture. Some of the women have brought their own Bibles. The rest of us get Bibles from the bookshelf in the chapel. The chaplain divides the group into two parts to read the first selection responsively. For the next reading, we go around the circle, each of us reading a couple verses. We stand for the reading of the Gospel. Sometimes the chaplain reads the Gospel; sometimes someone else does.

     Next comes the part of the service called "Testimony." We go around the circle, each woman talking for a couple minutes about how the Scripture readings are speaking to her, or about whatever else is on her mind. Often the testimonies are about trusting God to be watching out for their children while they are incarcerated. Other testimonies are about apprehension or excitement about upcoming court dates, or whatever else is coming up next for them. Sometimes that might be going home.

     Then it's time for prayer.  It begins with 5 – 10 minutes of quiet time when each woman writes down her own prayer requests to give to the chaplain. During this time I play quiet background music. If women have talked about their children during the testimony time, I might play "Jesus Loves Me" or "Jesus Loves the Little Children." If they have talked about being apprehensive about what's coming up next for them, I might play "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." After everyone has finished writing their prayer requests and given them to the chaplain, I rejoin the circle. One by one, each person prays out loud for the person on her right around the circle. It's a comforting feeling to hear the person on my left praying for me, and then I can offer that same comfort to the person on my right as I pray for her.

     We end the service by singing another hymn and reading a final blessing together. Then a guard comes to escort the women back to their cells.

     It is my "testimony" that God regularly attends the women's worship service at the county jail.  God's Spirit can be clearly seen in the sharing and caring among the women who are experiencing some very difficult times together. "Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place…"

Check it out!!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Poetry often becomes a way to understand what incarceration means for the lives of those affected by it. This can be for both those who are incarcerated, those who have a loved one incarcerated and those who work in the criminal justice system. The two following poems reflect this struggle, one from a young woman who is currently incarcerated and one from a sergeant working in the jail setting.
I woke up this morning and there she was,
I knew I had seen her, felt her presence before.
She was what I was grasping for all along.
She was the light at the end of my dark, dark tunnel.
Please don't leave me, I need you.
I need you to help me through this.
What can I do?
I need to keep you here with me.
She spoke to me and she said
"When you wake up, pray.
Look into your children's eyes,
you will feel me within you.
I exist where there is nothing but darkness.
She was all that I had left, all I could grasp on to.
It was there that I found her.
When there  was nothing else left.
It is there she stood before me.
Here I can stand, once again,
I have found her,
I have hope.
                                                                                            Melisa Harness/June 2009
Bless Us With Your Presence
Let God, of all the worlds that ever were
And all the worlds that ever will be
Of all times, of all ages, of all creation...
Bless us with Your Presence
Consume us with Your Grace
Walk with us
In the darkness of this place
Surround us with Your Angels
Carry us on Your Wings
Give us the Voice of Heaven
Your Holiness to sing
Give us the faith of Angels
The strength and courage of Your Holy kings
Let our voices never falter
Let the words of Heaven ring
Never let the Flames be stilled
Nor darkness stop the dance
Let the power of the Holy Spirit
Teach the Holy chants
Let Jesus walk among us
And teach us how to open the door
To transcend the chains that bind us
To allow our spirits to soar
                                                                  Sandra J. Yearman, The Time of Angels is at Hand, 2008
Check it out!!!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting the word out!

Channel 27 is doing a two part piece on parents who are incarcerated with children. They interviewed one young woman currently at the Dane County Jail which airs May 16 @ 10pm and they interviewed our Backyard Mosaic Women's Project which will air May 17 @ 5pm. Hope you get a chance to see this and give us some feedback! peace, Julia
Check it out!!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quilt Auction

The energy was truly amazing on Saturday at the Annual Quilt Auction. The colors and textures were vibrant. This kind of event gives us the emotional and spiritual energy to do the work we do. When people care enough to create and donate works of art we bring that hope back into this jail and to the people who need it the most. peace, Julia

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 5

We completed this session of our  Women's Spirituality Group. It is wonderful to be with women who come in taking responsibility for their mistakes and who are ready to do something different and new with their lives. Women who commit to this group seem to be in this emotional and spiritual place in their lives. A shared theme of this session was forgiveness; how to forgive, themselves as well as those that have hurt them. Each woman identified it as a current spiritual concern in their lives.  This is a final reflection from one young woman:  "I've learned it is better to forgive than not forgive because not forgiving keeps me  stuck. Forgiving allows me to move forward. I want to continue to move forward, especially on God's path of forgiveness. I can't expect forgiveness if I am not not willing to give forgiveness."  Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Unfortunately the image didn't attach on my last blog, but I would like to share the words from this young woman and her experience: 

The meaning of my image is that what I want in life

is to be happy; nothing more and nothing less.

My redemption is happiness.

It's time for me to change and start doing things right so I can be content with my life

and enjoy the happiness that I deserve.

This has opened my eyes to a lot of different things

as far as having faith, hope and spirituality.

I pray more
and I don't let things get to me as much now.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1

I am experimenting to see if an attachment can be read on this blog!  I very much want to share one joyous image from our Tapestry Project. The completed piece will soon be hanging on the podium in the chapel. This project began in 2004 and we are now weaving our third piece. It is a time for individual spiritual care; prayer through the work of our hands. As we pray together we create a visual  prayer that embodies the hopes of each individual woman.
It has been a blessing. With the completion of our third piece, we will have the opportunity to weave for other settings. Any requests or ideas? peace, Julia

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 2011

The following poem comes from a young woman who is working hard to understand the journey that has brought her to incarceration.  Using her words in a new way reinforces the changes she desires to make in her life. She wanted to share it with others.




 I believe in the unseen

Some things must remain unspoken

And if you love too quickly

Your soul is bound to be broken

But this love is so powerful

His presence so surreal

A commitment so serious, beyond existent

I shall not run, I will not fear

For I surrender to you, Almighty


Call and he shall come near

I'm scared to love, or even be loyal

Yet these feelings are so pure

It's like I'm suffocating, I'm a caterpillar

I must escape this cocoon

I'm a child locked inside of his love

Yes, I've discovered my faith!

Surrendered to this destined fate

I believe in the unseen

From his love, I cannot escape


Shaqouia Hoffman

Thursday, January 6, 2011


In February of this new year, 2011, I will have been serving the Dane County Jail and community as chaplain for nine years. It has been nearly a decade of learning and struggling to understand the challenges women face with addiction and mental health care that is most often the road to incarceration. Underlying this is the issue of trauma and the long term affects. This year I will be focussing on spiritual care and trauma in workshops and study. I enter this endeavor prayerfully, anticipating that this will be enlightening but also difficult. The majority of women I do ministry with are victims of trauma; incest, rape, domestic violence. It is painful to realize the number of times I have heard the words, "I've never told anyone this before...", during  individual spiritual care.
The light of hope that shines for me is the growing awareness in the wider culture for care of trauma vicitims. Providing a safe place to remember and tell the stories begins the healing process. As one woman shared, "Reflection reminds me of where I never want to be again".
Hopefully this blog reflection will deepen my ministry. Please keep us in your prayers.