Saturday, May 5, 2012

Even among prison chaplains

you'll find an occasional bad apple.

I love prison chaplains, and have absolutely the highest regard for them. For 21 years, when I was the director of HIS MEN, we worked with prison chaplains to prepare Christian concerts for prisoners. I could count the problem chaplains on two fingers.

I guess that's why it is so disappointing when one fails to live up to the prison chaplain reputation.

HFP has been working with a prisoner who wants to get married. This seems strange to us on the outside, but it happens with some frequency, even though the bride and groom may never have an opportunity to live together. Marriage ceremonies must be arranged through the prison chaplain.

I'll be the first to admit that this prisoner is no stranger to controversy, and often finds himself in the middle of issues. So when the chaplain insisted that all wedding ceremony participants submit their Social Security numbers for prison clearance, our inmate friend filed a grievance. It's not necessary, he contended, to give up your SS# just to get clearance. Well, the state considered the grievance, and ruled in favor of the prisoner. While he won that little battle, he's now in danger of losing the war, because the chaplain is not pleased.

The chaplain reviewed the prisoner's pre-sentence investigation of 1990, which showed that he was still married at that time. Well, that's certainly true, but that's over 20 years ago. Since that time, the inmate has not only been divorced, but married and divorced again. No matter. The chaplain has ruled that this old report shows the inmate married, and until he can prove otherwise, the wedding ceremony---with date and time already set---is called off. Come on!

I spoke with my friend Maurice Carter about chaplains, when he was still alive, and he was very candid with me. He explained that the reason some prisoners have problems with chaplains is that they are actually employed by the state...the same boss as that of the prison guards and wardens. He said some prisoners don't trust chaplains, and in some cases, for good reason...some have not honored confidential information. He then told me about a chaplain in one facility who was applying for the job of prison warden. He asked me: Who would trust that chaplain with private, confidentail information? Who,indeed.

Not a simple issue, but one that makes each day interesting in the HFP office.

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