Status of Ex-Offenders Reentry

Aurora: An initiative titled Restoring Inmates to America’s Society – better known as RITAS Ministry – was established in Aurora in 1997 as a 501(c)(3) organization with the sole mission of assisting individuals involved in the justice system to become productive citizens by providing a total support system of transitional jobs, transitional housing, counseling, and other needed services. Individualized plans of action for ex-offenders cover a 12- to 18-month period; these may include a three-phase substance abuse program, anger management classes, and services for their families. Recidivism among clients has been as low as nine percent in 2002 and 15 percent in 2003. Over the years, RITAS Ministry has served as a leader of prison ministry re-entry services and education in Aurora and the State of Illinois, developing strong collaborating relationships with other social service agencies, law enforcement, and government agencies in the City, County and State; a particularly strong relationship exists with the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The Executive Director of RITAS Ministry, who serves on the Illinois Commission for Prisoner Reentry and, in 2005, was appointed to the Governor’s Executive Task Force on Prisoner Reentry, has devoted time to educating court officials, university staff, and the community on the complex issues faced by offenders and their families. Funding for the organization is provided by the Fox Valley United Way, Kane County Board, Aurora Foundation, Weed and Seed, churches, businesses, individuals, and through other grants and a few contracts. In-kind donations also help offset program costs. RITAS Ministry has been honored by the Illinois Courts Services for its instrumental role in bringing the Restorative Justice movement to Illinois in 1998.

CONTACT: Linda Martin, Executive Director, (630) 966-0252 or info@ritasministry.org.

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‘Real’ Prison Ministry Training Inspires, Instructs
By Amanda Hudson, News editor, The Observer
November 9, 2012

ROCKFORD—“The first time, I think ‘This is not for me,’” said Deacon Ignacio Badillo as he described his first ministry visit to the Winnebago County Jail nearly three years ago.

Deacon Richard Martin (center), who, with his wife, Linda, oversees diocesan jail ministry efforts, leads a training session, Nov. 3, in Rockford. (Observer photo by Amanda Hudson)

But he returned for a second visit, and now he can say, “I like it, going there to support those people, (but) it is hard to do. They want to talk to me, (and I) just listen, and I can see how they need God (and are) hungry” for Him.

Deacon Badillo was one of about 20 men and women who gathered on Nov. 3 at St. Rita Parish to learn and help plan ways to increase the Catholic presence in jail ministry in the Diocese of Rockford. The training was presented by Deacon Richard Martin and his wife, Linda, who oversee diocesan jail ministry efforts.

“You never give up on people,” Deacon Martin said, speaking from his personal prison experience as well as his ministry experience, which includes establishing  (Restoring Inmates to American Society) Ministry in the Aurora area.

To help show the potential impact of prison ministry, the Martins showed part of a video featuring one of their clients, Michael, who discovered “a whole new world” when released after 23 years in prison.

“I was left so far behind in life,” Michael said in the video, explaining that he tried to benefit from release programs and to find work, without success. RITAS Ministry, he said, didn’t look at just “the jail-part of me … when I got done talking with Linda (Martin) and (staff member) Pam, I felt like a human being.”

Michael is doing well today, the Martins agreed. Spiritual goals for prison ministry, they added, include sharing the unconditional love of God, teaching new believers how to study the Bible, demonstrating the power of prayer and teaching inmates how to pray.

It is a ministry that can tug at a variety of hearts. The Nov. 3 training welcomed people who had no previous experience in ministering to prisoners and others who had a wide range of experience.

For example, Samuel Ayala of Church of Holy Apostles in McHenry said he only has visited friends in jail, and Gary Heidenreich of St. Rita Parish in Rockford just recently made his first visit to the Winnebago County Jail. Kris Mimier of St. Rita’s said she had been “blessed to be under Laura’s wing” through four Bible study jail visits, referring to Laura Ortiz, a five-year jail ministry volunteer, who was sitting behind her.

Nancy Daumke of St. Mary Parish in Huntley described her 25 years in prison ministry in DuPage County, while Deacon Steve Pospischil of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Freeport said he served in prison ministry in another state before moving to this diocese. Jose Barranco of St. Thomas Parish in Crystal Lake described himself being “very happy” in his two years of the “very necessary” ministry, while Gregprio Zepeda, also from St. Thomas, said that after three years of jail ministry he sometimes finds it to be depressing.

Jim Brooke of St. Rita Parish, Rockford, has worked many years in the Kairos Prison Ministry. Father David Peck and Father Dariusz Barna described their service, past and present, bringing the sacraments to prisoners in Rockford and in the Fox Valley.

Both Deacon Martin and Jason Viveros provided personal witness about the boredom and other challenges faced by prisoners and how God can work on them during and after their time in prison. Deacon Martin shared that “God hit me between the eyes” on a Cursillo retreat weekend after his incarceration, eventually bringing him to the diaconate to specialize in prison ministry.

“I just wanted to get out of my cell,” Viveros said of his motivation to attend a Christian group during his past imprisonment. There he heard testimonies of the power of Christ from “tattooed Mexican Mafia.”

“God sent them to me,” Viveros said. “They had Jesus, man, they had a glow about them … I want to do something like that, if I can.”

Whether volunteers come to the ministry with personal experience or simply a heart for Christ and those who need him, “Prisons meet the criteria of any mission field: Lost people and a need for laborers,” the Martins said.

Personal qualities needed for the ministry include consistency and dependability, having a humble spirit and being able to be a non-judgmental example of Christianity.

A “holier than thou” attitude is not helpful, the Martins said.

It is, they acknowledged, a difficult ministry.

“You are going into the pits, going into the system,” Linda said. “There are evil people in prison, but there are a lot of good people who made bad choices. Don’t be judgmental … listen (to them).

“A lot of times, there’s nothing we can say to them,” Deacon Martin said. “They want somebody to listen to them (and that) helps them carry the burden, even though there is nothing you can say.”

“Most importantly, be prayerful,” Linda concluded. “Make sure your heart is where it is supposed to be. You are going to be blessed (in this ministry). A lot.”

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