Tuesday, December 22, 2015

From Blogger Marian Korth, our organist

Christmas in Jail

City-County Bldg from City Hall

The upper floors of the City-County Building in Madison, Wisconsin are part of the Dane County Jail
"This is the first time I'll be in jail over Christmas. I've been in jail a couple times before, but never over Christmas. I feel so bad for my family. Being in jail hurts my family more than it hurts me. I feel so bad for my kids. I'm really hurting my family by not being home with them for Christmas. I can't let this happen again. I've got to get my life back together."
The young woman struggled to keep tears from seeping out of her eyes as we went around the circle in the jail chapel, talking about what the Christmas story that we had just read in Matthew and Luke meant to us today.
I tried to imagine what it would have been like for my mom to be in jail over Christmas when I was a little girl.  It's hard to picture my mom being in jail. I think the most illegal thing she ever did in her life was speed up to 70 miles per hour to pass a car on curvy Highway 12, driving from Cambridge to Madison on her way to work in the morning. The speed limit was 65 back then, and she had a gadget in her car that buzzed when she reached 66 mph. That didn't happen very often.
Family Portrait - about 1960
Family portrait, about 1960: Nancy, Dad, Mom, Danny, Marian
But supposing Mom was in jail, whether guilty of anything, or not… What would Christmas have been like for me?
  • No Christmas baking: No cut-outs to frost and decorate. No Norwegian cookies. No date bars. No new recipe experiments – Mom tried out one or more new recipes every year. No homemade peanut brittle. No Holiday Hill whipped cream cake…
  • No one to ensure the whole house was decorated for Christmas, not just the tree.
  • No one to help us memorize our parts for the Christmas program in church.
  • No perfect Christmas presents. Mom always figured out what we wanted most, and managed to do all the Christmas shopping during the lunch hours of her job in Madison.
  • No one patiently trying to teach us patience on Christmas Eve as we waited for Dad to finish milking the cows and then come back into the house so we could open our presents.
  • No Christmas stockings. Mom always gave each of us one of her old nylon stockings with runs to set out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with an orange, an apple, a candy cane, and a few small wrapped presents for us to open on Christmas morning.
  • No special dinner on Christmas Day. Pan-fried chicken was my favorite.
  • No one to play Scrabble with me on Christmas afternoon.
I understood the young mother's point in the jail circle. Christmas is a very important time to be with family, not to be sitting in jail. But that's the situation for her this year. The other inmates understood her point, too. They felt the same way.
As we continued around the circle, we got to me. I commented that hearing the whole Christmas story read in one sitting – the shepherds, Jesus' birth in the stable, the wise men – reminded me of a question that's printed in the bulletin of one of the churches I'm playing at this Sunday. "If you could play a part in the Nativity story, which role would you want: shepherd, inn keeper, wise man, angel, Mary, or Joseph?"  I said that I would either want to be an angel or a shepherd. It would be so much fun, so thrilling to be singing – or playing an instrument – to be welcoming Baby Jesus into the world. Several of the inmates explored this idea for themselves. One said, "Oh, I'd want to be a shepherd. It would be so exciting."
Nativity images
When we all finished sharing our thoughts on what the Christmas Story meant to us this year, it was time for our annual Christmas carol sing. I went to the piano and Chaplain Julia handed out song sheets. She told the inmates they could keep the song sheets if they wanted, but she would have to remove the staples before they could take them out of the chapel. Most of them wanted to keep the song sheets.
Christmas carols
Chaplain Julia said they could request two things – the song to sing and which verses to sing. The first song requested, as soon as Chaplain Julia asked for requests, was the last song in the booklet, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" The requester asked for all verses. Actually, all verses were requested for every song we sang. And, boy, did we have fun singing! There was never a long, awkward pause waiting for a request. As soon as we finished one song, another request was immediately out there. The women sang every song with enthusiasm, as a truly special women's choir. I think we all identified with the angels. We sang a lot of angel carols – "Angels from the Realms of Glory," "Angels We Have Heard on High," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." As usual, we ended with "Silent Night."
When we finished singing, Chaplain Julia asked me, "Could we choose to be Baby Jesus in my question of who we would like to be in the Christmas Story?" She said, "It would be wonderful to be Baby Jesus and feel all the love of everyone singing to me." The inmates agreed.
I guess a little miracle happened in jail last Thursday. The women who came to the chapel to worship God and sing Christmas Carols, walked in feeling the weight of being in jail over Christmas, away from their family and loved ones. When they walked out of the chapel and were escorted back to their cell blocks, their spirits were lifted. I'm sure some of their spirits were still praising God, singing "Glo-ri-a in ex-cel-sis De-o." God's love was being experienced right there in jail.
angels and Mary and Jesus
This picture may be bleached a little too white, but it still shows love – wondrous heavenly love and peace present on Earth.

Thursday, August 6, 2015



Chaplain John gave me a lovely image of fall trees for my birthday, simply because I had admired it in one of his shows. I, in turn created an image of a woven figure holding out their hands in prayer.
Not quite a collaboration in the truest sense but nevertheless a really great example of the kind of working team we have had here at the jail.
Chaplain John is retiring this month and I am so sad and so glad.
Sad, because it has been a joy to work together and I will miss the partnership.
Glad, because he will have time to paint and be family.
May we continue to create colloaborations from what we have gained here together
at the Dane County Jail.
peace & gratitude, Julia 

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Human Trafficking

On a beautiful day, blue skies and perfect temperatures, Christa Fisher and I were having conversations about the tragedy that continues in this world of ours, the selling of human beings. Christa began working with the Jail Ministry last year as a Clinical Pastoral Education Student Chaplain and she is now the administrator for our collaboration with the Backyard Mosaic Women's Project. She will also be coordinating the volunteers and liaisons as a temporary hire for the Jail Ministry.
Our conversations were with the Racine Dominicans/who have given us a grant, Edwina Gately/who began Genesis House and Sophia's Circle/women who graduated from her program fifteen years ago. Illuminating and excruciatingly painful, we could not have these conversations without time to collect our thoughts and stones from the shores of Lake Michigan and a visit to the nearby Eco-Justice Center.
It is impossible to understand how we humans can treat each other so cruelly, even though the center of our theology as Christians is the crucifixtion. It is followed by the hope of resurrection. In this season of Pentecost may the Spirit be upon us to find the will and the tools to abolish human trafficking. I ask for your prayers to support us as we continue to hold community conversations and seek the funds to assist the survivors in their pursuit of true life and healing. Amen.
peace & gratitude, Chaplain Julia

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On the Road to Emmaus

Recently Pastor Scott Geister-Jones shared the following devotion with the MALC board. It is based on the well-loved story of Jesus' meeting with his followers on the Emmaus Road. I experienced his devotion as a very moving and supportive reflection on the work we do at the Dane County Jail and in our Madison community. May it be so.
 A surprising resurrection account startles two travelers weary with grief.
How often must this happen inside the Madison Jail?
Families broken with grief. Heart ache as palpable as tears on a cheek. Hopes dashed.
Yet a visitor joins the weary ones, asks questions and listens. Soon the words of Christ burn within them. Life is rekindled. Darkness transformed. Hope stirs amidst grief.
How often this story unfolds inside the jail as Julia or John draw near. They journey on the Road to Emmaus and hear the voice of another say to them, "Stay with us. It is nearly evening. The day is almost over. "
Almost, but not fully over. The the Christ promises a new day and a new way!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week

One of the gifts of this ministry is the joy of having people who care,  share in this ministry.They support those who are incarcerated through financial assistance, donations of spiritual reading or the gift of prayer. Marian Korth brings her gift of music and plays the organ for us...and then she blogs about it!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

May All Be Well...

You were right…I needed to reach out to my boys to explain that I thought I'd be out
by now to call but I'm not so I wrote to explain that I loved them and I'd make up my
absence soon. It took me awhile because you can't see through eyes filled with tears
to write. But I got through it and felt better for it…It really is easier for me to just
block all of it out. Though I'm happy I wrote to them I'm also in so much pain right
now I can't stop crying. My children have always been my life. I was hoping I could
put all emotion on pause while in here but I'm not capable of doing it for too long.
And when the dam breaks it hurts so bad. I seriously feel like my heart is bleeding
and it fills my chest to where I can't breathe and it overflows out of my eyes but it
comes out in tears instead of blood…Any ideas how to cope till the lawyers figure
out my destiny for the future?
Grief is one of those life experiences that we work hard to avoid. But is best just felt. This young woman came to our Women's Spirituality Group intent on not feeling her pain. Thankfully it became very quickly apparent that she was in a safe place in our group and could begin to feel her grief in small amounts. For people who are incarcerated it is very difficult to be vulnerable. The jail is full of hurting people who have not healed enough from their own pain to allow others to feel their pain. Mockery is often the response to tears and true grief. How to lament? We work hard as chaplains to help people grieve as safely as possible. Sometimes I say it is part of my "job" to make people cry. I sincerely don't mean to, but when the tears begin to flow I know healing is at work. I like to say that tears get rid of toxins and truly felt tears are like an antidepressant… or chocolate. There are no easy answers, just the hard, honest work of grief.
I want:
Help me to learn forgiveness of myself & for others
I wish the anger would go away
I am tired of being angry
I yearn for peace in my heart
Help me to find patience
I am so sensitive
I feel everything
I crave solitude
I am ready
Women's Spirituality, January 2015

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