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:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


As we prepare for our Jazz for the Jail fundraising concert, we will also be moving the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project show from it current site, EVP Coffee House on East Wash to the Madison Christian Community. Our show:
Our lives
Shattered by choices or circumstances
Our reflections
Creating beauty out of broken places
Just a bit of background on the support groups available for women when they have work release status and after they leave the jail. Women's Beginnings is a weekly support group that meets at Bethel Lutheran. The primary concerns are AODA issues, employment and parenting. Other issues that are explored  include anger management, trauma, domestic abuse and violence, relationships, mental health challenges, criminal thinking, accountability and self-control. Once a month we have presentors from the community to talk about what their organization can provide women returning to their families and communities.
If a woman is contributing well to the supportive, networking aspect of the group and taking responsibility for her actions, the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project is a support group that is related to the Jail Ministry. This is a safe place for women who are recreating their lives after incarceration, to develop their artistic skills and an opportunity to create community-based public art. We meet every Wednesday at St. John's Lutheran.
We are having a busy summer. We planted our garden at St. John's in cooperation with the Sunday morning children & youth's, Learning Place and were gifted with plants from Oakhill Correctional's Horticulture Program. It is beautiful & worth a drive by on East Washington.
May we hold each other in grace, Julia 

Thursday, June 13, 2013


The Lap of God
She was shelling peas,
apron-covered knees
spread wide to catch
each pea/each pod
I, shaky, needy
wandered near
Her ancient swollen hands
pushed back the hair
that hid my face
She set down the pan
and, patting her knee,
oh, child,
come on up here
and let me have a look at you.
Her voice was safe and so was I
sitting in the lap of God.
Just about every week I hear a woman say in worship that she is incarcerated because God set her down for a minute. Their lives were out of control & they needed time to clear their bodies & minds & open their spirit to the one who created them in that Divine image. How precious does this poem say it for us. We will be sharing it in the next few weeks in worship to express the joy & comfort of setting down in the safe place that is God.
May we all find that place in this season of summer.
Peace & gratitude, Julia


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


One of the joys of this ministry is the ever widening circle of our message of love; love for our sisters and brothers who are incarcerated. I intended to share the following poem this month, but our organist, Marian, beat me to it!  She included it in her weekly blog which goes out to a whole other group of folks.
Several weeks ago, during Lent, in one of the worship services, the chaplain gave us about 15 minutes to do something creative to express our feelings. A couple of the women drew pictures. One young woman drew a picture of herself giving a birthday present to her little boy. She said she hoped to be out of jail in time to be home for his birthday. I played the piano – whatever hymns and spirituals came into my mind. One of the women told me she recognized every song I played. Tanya wrote a reflection on what love means to her. That 15 minutes was probably the most peaceful part of the day for all of us.
After listening again yesterday in church to what the Bible says about loving one another, I think now is a good time to share Tanya's reflection on love.
Love is praying for my enemies –
In the same way I pray for my family
Love is growing in God –
Every day in every way
Love is not only knowing that angels are near –
But feeling them touch my soul
Love is willingness to give all –
And at the same time receive none
Love is a trust that never wavers –
No matter what stands in your way
Love is loving more than you know how –
Yet expecting nothing in return
Love is the melting of your soul –
In the coldest day you've known
Tanya, 2013
peace & love, Julia

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Show!

The Women of the Backyard Mosaic Project
invite you to their show:
Our lives
Shattered by choices or circumstances
Our reflections
Creating beauty out of broken places
It will be @ Bethel Lutheran Church.
Our opensing is Sunday morning, April 7 from  8:30-1:00
& will be displayed there until May31.
Please see the attached flyer.
We celebrated the opportunity to share this work with our community.
Peace & Gratitude

Websites I am connected with:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Prison Visitation Program!

Are there members of your congregation incarcerated at Taycheedah?
On the third Saturday of each month, Madison-area Urban Ministry sponsors a FREE
 bus trip for children who are visiting their moms. 
Caregivers are also invited to attend, if they are able. 
(The only requirement is that both the > child and the caregiver must be on the mom's visiting list, and MUM needs to> know their names about ten days in advance, for approval by Taycheedah.)
 Adult volunteers from MUM also videotape other moms reading stories to their children. 
 The DVDs are then mailed to the children along with the book and a letter from mom. 
The bus leaves from (the back parking lot off Hegg Ave)  Lake Edge UCC at 4200 Buckeye Road
at 7 am and returns to Madison by about 1:30 pm. 
Breakfast is served on the trip to Fond du Lac, and lunch is served on the trip back.
We can also pick up kids at the McDonald's off 151 in Sun Prairie.
Next trip is March 16Call MUM at 608-256-0906.
Websites I am connected with:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 2013

Love keeps showing up during our Lenten worship. Love in our past, love in our present, love in
1 Corinthians 13. Today  I share one woman's response to our reflection on faith & love:
Love Is
Love shines bright as the sun, moon & stars.
Love will not forsake us.
Real, true love is genuine, unconditional, divine & runs deeper than the ocean.
To feel love is to be faithful, open-hearted & allowing our hearts to soften.
To forgive & be forgiven is a trait of love.
Love will not sneak up on us & hurt us from behind, nor will it kick us to the curb when we're down or feeling lonely.
Love is beautiful as the rainbow & necessary as the sunlight.
Through God & with God love is very possible.
by Bernice Burns  2/28/13
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February II

From February 7, Annual Meeting:
The Spirit of God is upon me because the Most High has anointed me
 to bring Good News to those who are poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive,
recovery of sight to those who are blind
& release to those in prison.
—Luke 4.18-19
These words from the prophet Isaiah & quoted by Jesus caught my attention this week. It is a text that would be a prime source for deep exegetical reflection. For tonight it recalls to me the many volunteers who feel called to share Good News, liberty, recovery & release with those of us who are incarcerated at the Dane County Jail.  Together as chaplains we have the honor of working with the board, the facilitators of Bible Studies, worship, support & spirituality groups & Al Anon. My current estimate is in the area of 140 volunteers, a large number of them with jail access!  I truly had no idea & am so grateful. Tonight I have invited three women who give their time to this jail ministry in the areas of networking, reentry & publicity.
For at least ten years the need for a family support group in the community has been on my heart. For so many reasons, families get worn out from the stress & expense of having a loved one who is incarcerated. I was thrilled when I found out that Ruth Poochigian was involved in that process. One less thing for me to take on is always good. I see a development of this type of support group as essential for both the one who is incarcerated & the family as they leave jail or prison. I do believe that what happens in the families & communities upon reentry is one of the keys in reducing recidivism. Ruth is a regular with 1st Congregational, UCC's Prison Ministry Project & serves on the boards for Sister House, Inc & the Dismas Ministry, a Catholic outreach to prisoners.
Mary Batson has been co-facilitating our Women's Beginnings group,
which provides support for women with work release privileges & presentations on community resources from the areas of  Recovery, Employment & Education and Parenting. We have a summary of the Participant Satisfaction Surveys from 2012. We always say that the more a woman can have in place before reentry the greater the chance of success. Mary did internships with Rock County Jail & Journey Mental Health here in Madison. This past year we were excited to acquire a small stipend for her dedicated work from the Association of Spiritual Caregivers.
            In worship this week our focus was love. I shared with the women how love encompasses all the women I have worked with for so many years; they are in my prayers & become part of my 'family'.  I can enthusiastically say this about Cara Erickson. She has been getting the word out for us & living her dreams as a graphic artist; dreams that began in the Dane County Jail. She is the creator& consultant for the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project's website, a related ministry for women with work release privileges. Tonight she brings the new work she is doing for the Jail Ministry & she will be working on our MALC website.
After a Sunday morning service & adult education forum that John, I & Teacher Deb did last year, I received a commission for a stole. I decided to share that creative process with our Women's Spirituality Group.  Because it was a collaboration I have a check with me tonite for our commissioned piece from Pastor Brad Brookins at Mt. Vernon Zwingli, UCC!

A Prophet's Blessing

This blessing
finds its way
behind the bars.
This blessing
works its way
beneath the chains.
This blessing
knows its way
through a broken heart.
This blessing
makes a way
where there is none.
Where there is
no light,
this blessing.
Where there is
no hope,
this blessing.
In the presence
of hate.
In the absence
of love.
In the torment
of pain.
In the grip
of fear.
To the one
in need.
To the one
in the cell.
To the one
in the dark
To the one
in despair.
Let this blessing come
Let this blessing come
as bread.
Let this blessing come
as release.
Let this blessing come
as insight.
Let this blessing come
as freedom.
Let this blessing come.
                        Jan Richardson

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013


MALC Annual Meeting 2013
For those of you who may be interested:
There will a HISTORIC VOTE to create a position on the board
for a member of the United Church of Christ to serve this ministry.
Thursday, February 7  7:00
All Saints Lutheran
Peace & Gratitude,  Julia  
Websites I am connected with:

Thursday, January 24, 2013


One of the challenges of being in one ministry for an extended time period, for me it has been eleven years, is realizing the many ways that the ministry can be expanded; a wider vision…networking…giving voice to the voiceless…channeling the energy… …making the best choices. This past year confirms my need for new ideas and challenges. We did not meet last year's goal of painting and cleaning our office carpeting so it rolls over into 2013. I am adding colored pencils to our wish list to expand the possibilities for creative journaling. I am in the process of developing a format for a newsletter focusing on the written and visual work of the women and men that we serve. Included would be information about the ministry and community resources. So here is a salute to continued creativity and a clean office in 2013!


Wish List

            Jail rules for items we can give to those in need while incarcerated are very strict. The following are those things we can give and would greatly appreciate:
Small packs of colored pencils
 Composition notebooks for journaling
Stamped envelopes
Stationary items
Current daily readings
Recovery books
Reading glasses
We cannot give hygiene products, notebooks or calendars with spirals or other decorations. The wonderful selections of cards are greatly appreciated. It saves us hours of sorting time when the cards are slipped in the tops of each envelope and sorted into categories such as birthday, holiday, blank, sympathy.
Peace & gratitude,
Websites I am connected with: