Kairos Prison Ministry

In Matthew 25: 31-40 Jesus tells us among other things to care for the imprisoned. When I first felt that I was being called to this ministry, I was very hesitant to respond but thru The Holy Spirit’s guidance, I finally answered the call and have received more blessings than I ever could have imagined. Do you feel that same call? Are you curious about this ministry? New members are vital to this ministry!

We don’t go into these prisons to be advocates for their innocence, legal matters or the physical conditions of the prison, we are there to bring the message of Jesus love for all God’s children and show them that no one is beyond God’s saving grace. Kairos is in 37 states, 10 countries, 30,000 volunteers world-wide and has impacted 27,000 lives. It started as a Catholic Cursillo that, with the blessing of The Catholic Church, was transformed into a multi-denominational, Christian based ministry. You can find many great testimonies about Kairos on You Tube. We do two weekends a year at each prison, Stateville C.C. and Pontiac C.C., consisting of 4 days of talks given by Clergy and Laity, followed by table discussions of each talk.

Interested in getting involved? Contact Joe Raducka at 847-337-3847.

A letter of witness, from Joe Raducka:

The Holy Spirit has been evident on every Kairos retreat that I’ve been on. The retreat begins when we meet the residents on the first day. They are usually leery of us and the program and at first standoffish. As the program progresses, you can see the trust evolve and hearts begin to open to Jesus’ word and love. By the last day, it’s a complete 180-degree turn around for many of the residents. One very powerful example happened at the recent weekend at Pontiac C.C.

I was one of the Table Family Leaders for Pontiac #6. On the second day, everyone was assigned to a table family. We had 5 residents at our table along with myself, an assistant leader and a Clergy representative. As the day progressed, it became obvious that 3 of the residents had very little interest in the program and became very disruptive to the other attendees and were getting up, wandering around during discussions, paying very little attention to what the purpose of Kairos is. One of the others at our table decided he really didn’t want to be there and returned to his cell saying he wasn’t interested in this.
That night during the team dinner at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pontiac, we voted to expel those 3 disruptive individuals from the program. Four out of the five at our table were now out of the weekend.

This has never happened during any of the 13 previous Kairos retreats that I’ve been on. I was very disheartened knowing that we team members would probably be reassigned to other table families along with the one remaining resident. It is Kairos’ policy to not allow any resident to come into a retreat after missing part of the program. The institution is also aware of that. Next morning as I left the hotel, I began to pray the Rosary asking for assistance and guidance from the Holy Spirit. I finished the Rosary in the parking lot just outside of the prison walls wondering what was going to happen.

After we arrived at the gym, our team leader and council leader were informed by the guards that they had 3 replacements if we wanted them. To my surprise, they said yes and we took them on. The new residents were placed at my table and we now had a family table of four residents plus us three volunteers. My prayers had been answered, with more evidence of the Holy Spirit to come!

During introductions, one of the new residents, I’ll use the name John, cautioned us that he was borderline sociopath, autistic and bi-polar. He was also very angry with God and didn’t know how he was chosen to attend Kairos.

We proceeded very gently with John and asked him to just listen to the talks and conversations and join in or ask questions whenever he felt comfortable. As the day went on, John began to let his guard down and started to join in the discussions, still voicing his displeasure with God. We gently encouraged him to continue in his participation with the group, even some of the residents were trying to help him open up. John was starting to turn the corner and began to ask questions about the ongoing talks and discussions. Although he was still very cautious, I could see that he was becoming more relaxed and feeling like part of the table family.

Part of the Kairos program involves hand-written letters of encouragement from us volunteers and outside help from friends and family of volunteers. Each volunteer had to bring 42 letters, 1 for each resident. We had 26 volunteers x 42 letters = 1,092. These letters are randomly divided into 42 separate paper bags to be given to the residents as part of the forgiveness ceremony. The residents are sent back to their family tables without the volunteers present and are able to read their letters without interruption. We observe from the other side of the gymnasium. Very early in the reading process, John gets up from the table and quickly walks to the bathroom crying and stays in there for a few minutes before a guard walks in to check on him. The guard comes over to us saying that John needs talk to the Clergy member from our table family.

What had happened was the first 3 letters that John had read all said in general terms that God loves him and wanted John to return to him and put his faith and hope back to him! Out of almost 1,100 letters randomly distributed into 42 separate paper bags, those were the first 3 letters that he had read!

After reading the rest of his letters, he became eager to hear more of the promise of Jesus’ love for him and began to relax and participate in the rest of the program. We also have what we call, “open mic”, where we encourage the residents to talk in front of the assembly, telling anything they felt about what they had learned about their new understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. John, who had first entered the program very tight-lipped and reluctant to talk, eagerly got up in front of everyone telling of his new found trust in God.

Although he had a few minor setbacks, John finished the weekend in much better spirits than when he first arrived and attended the first monthly reunion in full participation. The Holy Spirit was certainly evident through the entire weekend.

How else can you explain that John was there in the first place? Three residents had to be removed because of their conduct and John was one of the replacements that we had not planned on being there. The other two also benefited greatly and one of them even took John under his wing at times, tremendously helping him to feel more at ease.
Also the fact that out of nearly 1,100 letters randomly distributed, the first three that John opened had a truly profound effect on him. We also never take on any new residents halfway through the weekend. This was a first for me!

One of the three residents that were removed sent us a written apology for his conduct also saying he wishes to have a chance to be on the next retreat in the Spring. All three will be invited again.

Kairos certainly is “God’s special time”. We rarely experience a weekend without problems or controversy but we have learned when problems arise to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit take over!

Yours in Christ,
Joe Raducka

(I couldn’t help but notice how many times the number 3 was used in this letter).