Mentally Ill Prisoners: Icons of Christ

For nearly three years, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) staff have been regularly writing to a prisoner, whom I will call Michael, who lives in a state mental hospital and suffers from delusions. The staff send Michael personal letters, cards with pictures of nature and wildlife, icon cards and even funny illustrations. Often, Michael’s letters are full of his delusions, but sometimes he has moments of clarity, such as when he wrote…

The light of Christ reaches even into prison cells this Christmas

Jen became a grandmother at a much younger age than she ever imagined. She felt bitter that a new, unexpected grandbaby would derail her teenage son’s future. When her grandson, Matt, was born at Christmas and she finally had a chance to hold him, her anger faded away. “I looked at him and it melted my heart,” she said. Jen promised to never abandon that little baby.  But Matt’s life was not easy and he…

An OCPM visit to Pennsylvania Part Two

by Niko Petrogeorge Recently, my colleague Fr. Stephen Powley made a pilgrimage to St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Among the many esteemed staff at St. Tikhon’s is our friend, Fr. John Kowalczyk, who is a chaplain at a nearby prison and also teaches a class on “Foundations of Pastoral Theology” to our seminarians. As part of this class, the seminarians do an internship at the nearby prison, SCI Waymart. The…

Thanksgiving behind bars

Recently, we received a donation from the Missouri Department of Corrections — but the State of Missouri was not the donor; a prisoner was. That’s right, incarcerated men and women, who often earn just a few cents per hour, donate to OCPM. And those who earn no money often donate their stamps to OCPM so that we can write and send materials to other prisoners. Think about that. An individual who may…

An OCPM visit to Pennsylvania Part One

by Niko Petrogeorge If someone approaches you with anger how do you respond? Last week, my colleague Fr. Stephen Powley and I visited SCI Waymart, a state prison in Pennsylvania. We made rounds with Fr. John Kowalczyk, an Orthodox priest and contract chaplain at SCI Waymart. At a certain point, we walked into a unit that had two or three day-rooms that shot off of a central control area. When we walked…

The Person In Front of You

When seminarian Brad Given first got involved with prison ministry this year, he found he had to “deprogram” the ideas he had about prisoners from the media. “Media portrayals are understandably very negative because someone may commit a crime and is unrepentant,” says Given, who is a third-year student at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. “But I was surprised to discover that they were just people dealing with people’s problems…

What is Life Like Behind Bars?

  We often forget that our Lord Jesus Christ was a prisoner, that he himself experienced the loneliness, isolation and restriction that is prison. Perhaps that is why He commanded us to visit prisoners (Matthew 25:36 – “I was in prison and you visited me.”) But what is prison like and how does a prisoner spend a typical day? Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry recently interviewed a former prisoner who converted to Orthodoxy…

What Role Does Demonic Spiritual Warfare Play In Our Struggles?

In this second part of a series, Fr. Stephen Powley answers some provocative questions he received by email. Question:   “In your opinion, do you think the role of evil, the devil, demons, and spiritual warfare is understated and not given fair recognition for the sins and/or crimes that are committed in today’s age? I once heard that the closer to God an individual is, the more evil will try to attack…

Are We Forever Marked By The Worst Thing We’ve Ever Done?

In this first part of a two part series, former prison chaplain, Fr. Stephen Powley, answers some provocative questions he received by email.    Question:   “I stumbled upon your prison ministry video on YouTube and was very moved by your words. I’ve never been incarcerated but I’ve had friends and peers that have or are serving time. I know that many people, myself included, based on our sins, transgressions, mistakes, etc. could have…

She Tried Prison Ministry, Then She Got Hooked

Mary-Jo Dukas is an Orthodox Christian who is serious about whether she is fulfilling the Lord’s commandments. She went through Matthew 25:35-36 like it was a checklist and saw that the one thing that was missing was that she hadn’t visited someone in prison. “I really felt called to prison ministry, but I was afraid,” confesses Dukas, who lives in North Carolina. “But I called up the local women’s minimum-security prison and became a…