The program is informally called “Hot Dogs and a Hug” and is a meal and dignity for the family members of men and women incarcerated in our local prison.
I’d like to call it jail, because that sounds better, gentler maybe, and because I live in a kind of “Mayberry”-like fantasy town. But the truth is the new prison looks just like every other new prison in America; it has a minimum security unit and a medium security unit and a maximum security unit, where men are kept in solitary confinement.
FRONTLINE on PBS did a horrifying story on the effects of solitary confinement on men in prison – how they basically go crazy, in need of affection and human touch and respect.
And when I learned that over 80,000 men in America are kept in solitary confinement for more than an average of 18 months, I have been wondering what, if any, is my role to help these men.
So I filled out the paperwork and got my background check completed and attended the two hour Correction System training that gives me credentials to be face to face with prisoners (as opposed to being separated by glass or on a video screen with one another). And I got scared. Really scared.
The part that scared me most was the training on where to stand so that the prisoner is in my ‘safe zone’ (which is about 3 feet on my right side and 3 feet on my left side). As a hugger, I know I can’t hug, but I also can’t be the best me God created by always being on guard to make sure an inmate is within my ‘safe zones’.
So Hot Dogs and a Hug might be my best option; no background check is needed. It only takes a commitment of two hours on the fifth Sunday of the months that have five Sundays, which in 2015 is only two.
And as person who lives day to day without abusing myself as best I can (no ciggies, no drinkies, minimal sugar etc. etc. etc) I know what it is like to need compassion and acceptance and hope. Especially at my worst I needed a whole lotta love as Janis Joplin used to belt out.
So I am inviting you to join in this ministry of presence. Fixing a meal twice in 2015 is not a big deal. It can be chili and crackers and dessert or anything easy. That isn’t the ministry – that is just a barrier lowerer.
The ministry is showing up and accepting the family members, listening to them talk, holding them if they need a hug, being a non-judgmental presence of compassion.
Do you feel called to help family members of inmates (some of whom have not been brought to trial)?
If you are interested, please contact Frank Hintz and tell him annie sent you; firstname.lastname@example.org