Johnny’s Long Walk Home

Johnny was in the prison library, looking for answers to his deepest spiritual questions, when he overheard a conversation two tables over. An Orthodox prisoner named Jesse was talking about the early Church. Johnny moved close enough to eavesdrop, an uncomfortable, even dangerous thing to do in prison. Johnny started asking him questions, which led to Johnny writing to OCPM, learning the Faith through his correspondence with Fr. Duane Pederson and Zossima…

#AscendingTogether Part 3: Dn. Seraphim, Volunteer Prison Chaplain

When Deacon Seraphim Blackstock began visiting men in a Florida prison, he started out, in his own words, “very arrogant”. “I went into the prisons with the idea I was helping these guys. They’re felons. They’ve committed horrible crimes. I’m doing them a big favor.” Dn. Seraphim would soon find out that there was much these men in prison could do to help him too. Most Christian prison chaplains start by teaching…

#AscendingTogether Part 1: Together with Christ in Prison

Where there is real humility, all bonds are made free.” -St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent “These inmates put my prayer life to shame.” -Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, after visiting a prison with OCPM’s Director of Training and Spiritual Care, Fr. Stephen Powley  John was sentenced to eighteen months in a medium security prison in 2019. Not long into his sentence, he felt compelled to start going to chapel and…

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…