Tag Archives: Education for Ministry

What is Bad About Jail, What is Good About Jail

2017 Vanderbilt University Coursera Justice Mercy Mass Incarceration 1 Dec 2017

I recently finished a fascinating six week Vanderbilt University class called “Justice, Mercy and Mass Incarceration” presented through Coursera online.  The course goals were “to discover alternatives to the current systems of crime and punishment in order to imagine a more inclusive, just and moral society”.  It was taught by Graham Reside, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School.  This is my second online class in the area of justice and criminology, the first being “Crime, Justice and Society” by The University of Sheffield, presented online by FutureLearn.  I am both interested in the topic and in the MOOC (massive open online course) method in which these classes are presented.

Since 2015, I have developed and led a seminar at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas, California, in the Silicon Valley. Our seminar curriculum and books are from the Education for Ministry (EfM) program of the University of the South – School of Theology. EfM is a four year college-level certification program, started in 1975. So far as we know, ours is the only jail-based EfM program, although there are two dozen prison-based programs in the USA. In addition to covering the official EfM material, in the seminar we also work on listening, respectful group interactions, study skills, and basic leadership skills – like how to open and close a class with prayer.

This jail-based EfM program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), and the University of the South – School of Theology. I worked with a group of volunteers from St. Andrew’s to start our first weekly seminar in a medium security dorm, and we have recently added a second weekly seminar in a minimum security dorm. Two of the EfM students at Elmwood are in Year 3 (Church History), two are in Year 2 (New Testament), with the remaining students in Year 1 (Hebrew Bible). The EfM year is only nine months long but my Co-Mentors and I run the jail-based seminars back-to-back (since inmates do not get summer vacations).  About two thirds of the inmate students in our EfM seminar are men of color – mostly Latino – and the rest are white.  We conduct discussions in English (and Spanglish) but provide Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, and Dictionaries in both English and Spanish.

In leading this EfM seminar, I have observed many consequences of incarceration. One of my reasons for taking “Justice Mercy and Mass Incarceration” was to understand more of the context of what I am observing when I am teaching in jail. Last month, I told the seminar students about the “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” class and asked them to tell me one good thing and one bad thing about being in jail. Here is what six of them said:

What is Bad About Jail

  • I don’t see my family.
  • Some innocent people are punished (but not many).
  • I am not there for my kids.
  • I can’t be there to help my wife when she needs me.
  • Not being there for loved ones: I am frozen, unable to do anything.
  • Being a number – losing who you are.
  • I never get the time back.
  • I have no say. I am less of a citizen.
  • I am treated as low in the hierarchy.
  • There is no mercy, no leniency.
  • I can’t be there for my babies, my wife. I am hurting.
  • I am missing my family.
  • I lose my job, my apartment, my wife and kids, my paycheck, everything.

What is Good About Jail

  • Takes evil off the street.
  • Families are safe from bad people.
  • I have a clear mind. I am closer to God.
  • I have more belief, more faith, more spirituality. I am more close to God.
  • I have free time to spend on prayer, sobriety, like the worst-ever vacation. We can be with ourselves without a phone or Facebook.
  • If I stay clean, I have a clear mind, can reflect and prepare for becoming a better person out there.
  • I can clear my mind, rethink decisions on things I have done (and things I did not get caught for).
  • I can stay off drugs, not putting poison into my system.
  • It has made me think, be a better person. Reflection, closer to God. I am learning a lot.
  • There is free medication (health care).

There are connections and discrepancies between what “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” teaches and what the EfM student inmates say. They agree on the benefit of taking violent, evil, bad people off the street. They also agree that imprisonment has the potential for supporting personal reform – inmates rethinking who they have been and who they want to become. “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” does not spend a great deal of time on effective reform but in the recommended 1998 documentary film “The Farm: Angola Prison”, several of the long-term inmates had clearly over time become very different people, positive forces in the prison community.  My hope for my EfM students is whether they are inside or outside, they can make a positive difference in the world.

2017 FutureLearn University of Sheffield Crime Justice and Society certificate July 2017

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Honored Woman 2017

St Andrews Honored Women 2017 Certificate Katy Dickinson

Four years ago, I wrote about Honored Women’s Day, at which the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of El Camino Real join each year with the parish churches to honor a woman for her notable service. I am touched to be the 2017 Honored Woman for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California).  The text on the certificate prepared by ECW Chair Diane Lovelace based on the submission of our Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith reads:

    Katy is creative, knowledgeable, faithful, persistent, and swift to action. These are all qualities that are necessary for leadership, and Katy exudes them all. Katy is involved in many areas of the church. She has served in our vestry, chaired our Strategic Plan Personnel Committee, been an alternate to General Convention, and faithfully represented our community as a Diocesan convention delegate. However, her most recent ministry in EFM, Jail Ministry, and as the Diocesan EFM Coordinator is the reason for her nomination.
    Katy takes part in 3 EFM classes a week: one at Saint Andrew’s, and two at Elmwood Jail. She has been instumental to many parishioners continued faith formation as an EFM Mentor. She has leveraged her creativity to inspire and engage others, which has had a real world impact. Katy also leveraged her talents to set up an EFM jail program (1st one in the country) and took it a step further and got a second one approved. She needed to work with many agencies to make that happen, along with funding for the classes, co-mentors for each class, and negotiating with Sewanee to get a lower tuition rate so it would all be possible. This is a large ongoing time commitment (there are no class breaks in jail ministry). She is an inspiration and a rock for the guys there, and has even led some to join the Saint Andrew’s community. Katy also volunteered to take on the role of Diocesan EFM Coordinator. She arranged training locally, which was no small feat – normally the closest Mentors could go would be Auburn. This has expanded her outreach beyond El Camino Real, to all parts in California. Katy deserves to be recognized for the hard work and dedication that she has made to the Saint Andrew’s and broader community. She is a great example of faithful service to others and sharing the Good News of God’s love which she does so joyfully.

I am honored to be included in the ranks of the women leaders of our diocese. Special thanks to the Rev. Channing Smith for nominating me, and to the Rev. Peggy Bryan for asking my inmate students to write notes to present to me with the certificate.  You can read more about the University of the South – School of Theology Education for Ministry (EfM) program and our jail-based EfM seminars on the El Camino Real diocesan webpage.  If you are interested in supporting the incarcerated in Santa Clara County, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy.  Please contact me if you live on California’s Central Coast (Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo) and are interested in becoming an Accredited Mentor for EfM.

ECW 2017 Honored Women

Katy Dickinson Peggy Bryan 7 Oct 2017 presentation

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Images Copyright 2017 by John Plocher

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Technology for the Incarcerated

Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

I read Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh‘s recent article “How Technology Could Improve Mental Health in Prisons – But So Far Isn’t” (13 Dec 2016, in Fast Company) and considered other ways in which technology helps inmates.  I lead a weekly Education for Ministry seminar at Elmwood Correctional Facility (County Jail – in Milpitas, California). Here is how I see technology helping the ten men in my seminar:

  1. Because they do not have computer access, I make a standing offer to research topics that arise from our class discussions and bring the curious students more information.  Last night, I delivered printouts on Suetonius, Julius Caesar, prophecy in the Book of Daniel, the Caiaphas Ossuary, Galilee Boat, Ketef Hinnom, and Tel Dan Stele, plus a biography of Pontius Pilate. Wikipedia‘s easy access to vast fields of knowledge means in only an hour a week, I can bring the inmates a richer view into the world of the Hebrew BibleNew Testament, and Christian history.
  2. I was one of the St. Andrew’s prison ministry team who brought worship and song to Elmwood on Christmas Day. When leaving, I noticed a group of lovely deep purple irises blooming next to the back parking lot. Further on, I stopped to take a photo of two ducks on the water behind the jail. Just then, a big white egret erupted from under the bridge where I stood – as if an angel were arising from the water.  Because of easy and cheap digital photography and my color printer, I can show the inmates pictures of how nature was celebrating Christmas with them.
  3. One of my students was transferred from Elmwood jail into the state prison system.  He is highly intelligent and deeply faithful and wants to keep up his Christian studies.  Because prisons and jails will accept book deliveries directly from Amazon, I can use ecommerce to send him better books than are available in the prison library.  For Christmas, I sent him two EfM books: Transformed Lives: Making Sense of Atonement Today, and Care for Creation (a franciscan spirituality of the earth). We hope he will be transferred to a prison that offers an EfM Online course or one with an in-person class.
  4. The Elmwood class asked for song books in both English and Spanish so that they can sing hymns together.  I found Oramos Cantando – We Pray in Song. There are Spanish-only and English-only hymnals but this seems to be the only bilingual song book available. I even checked with our church’s Director of Music – who said he did not know of any.  I was able to locate eight paperback copies in good condition for less than $10/each on Amazon, delivered in a week from eight different used book sellers located all over the USA.

Oramos Cantando - We Pray in Song, 2005
Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

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Updated 3 January 2017
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Standing Up in Court

Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice and Main Jail, San Jose 21 July 2016

For the first time, today I was a witness in a criminal justice hearing. As I wrote on 11 April 2016, I have been teaching in jail every week as part of Education for Ministry (EfM), an extension program of the University of the South – School of Theology, for which I am an Accredited Mentor and the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator.

One of the Elmwood Jail student-mentees in my EfM seminar had a Romero hearing today and I was in court as a character witness. “The People of the State of California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 CAL. 4TH 497, 917 P.2D 628 (Cal. 1996), was a landmark case in the state of California that gave California Superior Court judges the ability to dismiss a criminal defendant’s ‘strike prior’ pursuant to the California Three-strikes law, thereby avoiding a 25-to-life minimum sentence” (quote from Wikipedia).  In today’s Romero hearing, the Defendant (my student-mentee) had the opportunity to reduce his sentence from an indeterminate number of years (that is, being sentenced to triple digit years without parole) to a sentence that may be completed during his lifetime.  I was the only witness present in court today but others had written letters to the judge asking for mercy in his case.  The hearing was brief but thorough.  The judge listened to me and the lawyers for the Defendant and Plaintiff (“the people”), then reviewed submitted documents.  What seemed to make a positive difference in this case was that the Defendant:

  • Has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions
  • Has demonstrated a sustained change in his behavior, character, and prospects for the future
  • Did not use physical violence
  • Is middle aged already

I was glad that the judge ruled in favor of the Defendant today and gave him a sentence of 30 years without parole.  My student-mentee will be an old man when he gets out of prison but with luck and good behavior, he will get out someday.  This was the result he had hoped for.

When I serve each year as a Mentor in the TechWomen program of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, my Mentees may go on to start businesses, accelerate their professional careers, attend graduate school, and change the world for the better.  When I am a Mentor each year for the EfM class hosted by Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church,  my student-mentees after four years of study graduate with more awareness of their personal ministry and with a solid education in the Bible, church history, theology, and ethics.

I am learning that as a Mentor for an EfM seminar in a county jail, my student-mentees gain the same education and potential for awareness of their personal ministry but have smaller potential to change the world for the better.  Even after they leave jail or prison, their socioeconomic status is so low that their prospects are modest as members of the community.  I am learning to celebrate the wins we can get, among them: passing the high school equivalency exam, reconciling with family, being accepted into a good reentry program, and getting a positive Romero judgement as we did today.

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Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice, San Jose 26 May 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Bishop Mary Visits Jail

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, Deacon Robert Seifert at Elmwood Jail, Milpitas CA, 12 June 2016

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves and Deacon Robert Seifert spent the afternoon at Elmwood Jail yesterday with the Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church jail ministry team, lead by the Reverend Peggy Bryan. In addition to the St. Andrew’s volunteers, Elmwood Chaplain Jennifer Bales went with us yesterday to two dorms. The first was a minimum security area holding about fifty inmates where St. Andrew’s offers Christian worship service every Sunday afternoon. The second area was a medium security dorm where I teach a Education for Ministry (EfM) seminar every Wednesday night. EfM is a University of the South – School of Theology extension program.

In thanks for her support – both financially in paying for half the cost of their EfM books and tuition, and spiritually with her prayers – the inmates signed a printout of our group-written “Collect for Week 14” as a gift for Bishop Mary. “Collect” is another word for prayer.  We wrote this collect as part of our 1 June theological reflection exercise in class.  The text is:

Collect for Week 14

Dear God, omnipotent in heaven, creator, Love, and perfect.

You watch over the oppressed, create people in perfection, never leave us alone, bring joy, and protect your creation.

We pray that you give us freedom, protection, wisdom, and guidance. Increase our faith, give us knowledge to know you better.
So that we are in heaven with you.

We praise your Holy Name. We keep our eyes on the prize: getting into heaven and gaining eternal life.

Amen.

My goal in asking Bishop Mary to visit was that the inmates would know that whether they are released soon or spend the rest of their lives in prison, they are valued human beings and part of a faith community who are praying for them.  Many if not most of the Elmwood inmates are recovering (or not) from substance abuse, or are mentally ill.  “Of the 3,600 inmates at the Main Jail and Elmwood in Milpitas, 43 percent suffer from a mental illness” officials reported in September 2015.  Many of the 120 recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Commission for improved jail operations are with regard to Mental Health services. Even for the healthy, jail is a depressing place.  Knowing that they are important to someone is a step forward.

If you are interested in volunteering to visit jail in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley), California, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (CIC).

Elmwood Jail Education for Ministry Collect June 2016

Elmwood Jail Milpitas CA March 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Teaching in Jail

Elmwood Jail, Milpitas California 2016

I have been developing an experimental Education for Ministry (EfM) program at Elmwood jail this year, with the support of the Rev. Peggy Byran and CIC Chaplain Jennifer Bales. Since 2015, I have been visiting the prisoners at Elmwood in Milpitas, California, as part of the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (CIC). Worship in jail is one of the long-term outreach efforts of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, CA.  The college-level EfM textbooks and program tuition funds for ten inmates were raised through strong support from the Right Reverend Bishop Mary Grey Reeves and St. Andrew’s Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith.  The University of the South – School of Theology EfM program itself supports prison ministry by giving a significant discount in book and tuition costs.  We  could not make this program work without the assistance of staff working in the Elmwood Correctional Complex.  I am thankful to all who are enabling our class to develop.  I have been an Accredited Mentor with EfM since 2011 and have been running a weekly seminar at St. Andrew’s since then.  Last year, I became the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator for EfM.

About EfM:

Education for Ministry (EfM) is a unique four-year distance learning certificate program in theological education based upon small-group study and practice. Since its founding in 1975, this international program has assisted more than 80,000 participants in discovering and nurturing their call to Christian service. EfM helps the faithful encounter the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition and bring it into conversation with their experiences of the world as they study, worship, and engage in theological reflection together.

About CIC:

Our primary mission is to respond to the individual spiritual needs of incarcerated youth and adults in Santa Clara County and present the good news of God’s love and forgiveness. As people respond to the messages of faith, they can experience lives of purpose and hope.  Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy is a non-profit corporation, founded in 1962. CIC operates in cooperation with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Department of Correction, Probation Department, and other government agencies as needed.

I go into Elmwood each week with Patrick Ryan, a St. Andrew’s parishioner who joined our class as a regular student.  I understand that are about 25 EfM seminars in prisons in the USA but ours seems to be the first class in a jail.  Inmates are at Elmwood for up to five years; many are still in the justice process, waiting for their cases to be heard or resolved.  My class is exploring how to run an EfM seminar in a jail, if it can even be done.  A primary difficulty of running a jail-based EfM class is that the seminar is nine months long and inmates often do not know how long they will be in for.  We began with ten registered men students at the start of March 2016.  Some have dropped out and others have joined, leaving us with eight students as of last week.

Since we are starting Week 7 (reading Exodus 1-15 in the Bible, plus Chapter 5 of Collins’ Introduction to the Hebrew Bible), I am not adding any more students – it will be too hard for them to catch up on the reading.  The students are energetic in raising questions and enthusiastic in our discussions.  I do not think any of them have been to college but they are all devoted readers of the Bible and have been doing their extensive homework reading each week. In addition to the assigned material, we are also working on study skills and learning to back opinions with material from the texts.  Two Elmwood inmates who were released in the first few weeks of class have come to services at St. Andrew’s and expressed interest in joining the parish-based EfM class when the next term starts in September.  Their faith and dedication to learning is inspiring.

Last week, I attended my annual CIC jail ministry training for volunteers.  With song and prayer and a interesting presentation by Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, about a hundred of us from dozens of faith communities renewed our connections and updated our understanding.  Last year’s speaker was the remarkable and inspiring Judge Stephen Manley, who has served on the bench in Santa Clara County for over 25 years and was a founder of the Drug Treatment Court as well as the Santa Clara County Mental Health Treatment Court.  CIC and EfM both run inspiring and life-changing programs. I hope we can create a long-term program that brings them together at Elmwood jail.

Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy training 2016

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Jail Volunteers 2016

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Jail Volunteers 2015

Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy leadership 2015

Images Copyright 2015-2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Understanding Gaza

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In the month since I was in Gaza City, I have been thinking through that journey. Living in East Palo Alto for 20 years and teaching in a prison are two experiences that have given me some perspective on Gaza. I lived in EPA when it was named the murder capital of America. (EPA was where I could afford a house as a single mother working in the Silicon Valley – lower house prices being one of its virtues.)  I recently started mentoring an EfM seminar at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas. Both EPA and jail can be dangerous and depressing places, but they can also be home and a ground for community support, growth, laughter, and love. When we visited Gaza, I saw devastation, poverty, and political anger but I was warmly welcomed by hundreds of locals who are building their lives and working to raise their community from the ruins.  Five of us went to Gaza together: Erin Keeley, Eileen Brewer, Aliya Janjua, my daughter Jessica Dickinson Goodman, and me.  It was the first visit by a group of executive technical women ever hosted by MercyCorps and Gaza Sky Geeks. Ours was also the first group visit by TechWomen mentors to our Palestinian mentees.

When I got back from three weeks in the Middle East and Africa, I briefly described Jordan, Israel – Palestine, and Zimbabwe to the men in my class at Elmwood. Trying to explain Gaza, I compared its twenty-year siege to lockdown, when inmates are immediately locked in their cells and all jail visitors must quickly leave because of an emergency situation.  While we were with the TechWomen Delegation in Jordan and during the two days we toured Israel before going to Gaza, we often heard deep surprise that we would be allowed in at all.  While we were in Gaza City, people on the street were very surprised to see us shopping and eating out.  We were told that many outsiders who visit Gaza drive through quickly, surrounded by guards.  We did follow MercyCorps’ rules to only go out during the day and early evening and always to be accompanied by a MercyCorps staff member but we were treated with hospitality and respect whereever we went.  Of course, I mostly was with my 2014 mentee Mai Temraz and her charming family!

Although Gaza is primarily Islamic, we visited the 50-bed Ahli Arab Hospital (supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem) and the Church of Saint Porphyrius (Greek Orthodox) between giving presentations on mentoring, venture capital, design thinking, crowd funding and other professional topics.  One effect of the long siege of Gaza is that the small Ahli Arab Hospital treats tens of thousands of patients per year with a mortality rate for diseases such a breast cancer at about triple – partly because of a lack of local medical facilities and the difficulty in getting patients out of Gaza promptly for treatment elsewhere.

One of the most difficult conversations I had several times with professional women in Gaza was whether they should stay or go.  Gaza is blessed with many talented and educated people whom it needs to rebuild after each conflict ends.  However, those are the people who can most easily qualify for graduate school, jobs, and programs elsewhere – which may be the best choice for them and their immediate families. My prayers are with the people of Gaza every day.

 

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Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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