Tag Archives: Education for Ministry

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

If you want to receive Katysblog posts by email, please sign up using the Sign Me Up! button (upper right).

Updated 3 January 2017
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

2 Comments

Filed under News & Reviews, Politics

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.

If you want to receive Katysblog posts by email, please sign up using the Sign Me Up! button (upper right).

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

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

3 Comments

Filed under Church, Mentoring & Other Business, News & Reviews, Politics

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, News & Reviews, Politics

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

2 Comments

Filed under Church, Mentoring & Other Business, News & Reviews

Understanding Gaza

Untitled

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.

 

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

4 Comments

Filed under Church, Mentoring & Other Business, Mentoring Standard, News & Reviews

7th Day: General Convention – Some Big Votes

IMG_0752

Today, the 78th Episcopal General Convention (GC) got into some of its bigger legislative discussions. Our Deputation is here in Salt Lake City, Utah, from the Diocese of El Camino Real (ECR) on the Central Coast of California.  I wrote on June 18 that most of the discussions this past year among the ECR Deputation members have been about the serious issues to be considered by this legislative body that meets every three years, especially:

  • Restructuring Church governance to enhance mission and ministry (TREC)
  • Marriage equality
  • Care of creation and social justice
  • Election of the next Presiding Bishop to a 9 year term

On 27 June, Bishop Michael Curry was elected to become Presiding Bishop. General Convention has been holding hearings and committee meetings for the last week and is starting to make decisions on the remaining major issues.  Today was the first day that Rev. Tom Sramek and I moved from the outer darkness of the Alternates seating onto the hallowed floor of the House of Deputies – as actual Deputies. We replaced Jeff Diehl and the Rev. Rob Fisher for today so that they could sit in on House of Bishop discussions.  To change status from Alternate to Deputy requires the signature of our Head of Deputation (Rev. Maly Hughes) or of Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves and must be done well before the legislative session starts.  Jeff and I, and Tom and Rob had to get all of our paperwork done before 7:30 this morning.

After getting a new red and white Deputy badge to replace my yellow Alternate badge, I sat in on the “Formation and Education for Ministry” committee of which Bishop Mary is a member.  The resolutions discussed included: financial support for immigrants and undocumented college students, and General Theological Seminary  (GTS) management, style, and financial relationship to General Convention.  Morning committee hearings were followed by worship service and then we went into the first to two legislative sessions for the day.  Elections held by the House of Deputies today included Executive Council (lay members only – clergy members were elected yesterday), GTS Trustees, members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, Treasurer and the Vice President for General Convention.

In addition to elections, House of Deputies also approved or concurred with the House of Bishops on resolutions on some key topics today, including:

Tom and I both spoke to the House of Deputies in support of resolutions where our experience and understanding could further the discussion. After the legislative session ended, John Plocher and I went to the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Education for Ministry program by the University of the South – School of Theology.

A sideshow are the continuing problems with the ECR Deputation’s hotel which has been having catastrophic plumbing problems, including an exploding boiler causing fire alarms in the middle of the last two nights. Cold showers and interrupted sleep have not made us big fans.

IMG_0693

IMG_0722

IMG_0730

IMG_0826

IMG_0817 . IMG_0941

IMG_0882

IMG_0883

Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson. Photo of Katy Copyright 2015 by Rev. Tom Sramek

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, News & Reviews

1st day at General Convention – Salt Lake City

IMG_8769

Early this afternoon, the GC Deputation from the Diocese of El Camino Real (ECR) started to arrive in Salt Lake City to attend the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  Since then, Diana Trapani and I, both first time GC participants, have enjoyed wandering around the Salt Palace Convention Center checking out the wide variety of exhibits, and meeting fascinating people.  So far:

  • I talked at length with Karen Meridith, Executive Director of Education for Ministry, about the EfM study materials my class will be using starting in September. (She and I have only communicated by email before.)
  • I met the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement and one of the leaders of Lent Madness, who is much taller than he looks online and was very polite about speaking with a fan while unpacking his exhibit booth.
  • I bought two more books from Rev. Eric Law, Founder and Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Institute, about whom I have written before.

What a pleasure it is to be able to speak with them in person!   I also found out that our own ECR Deputation member Celeste Ventura is a featured author at GC. Her book Deeper Simplicity, Broader Generosity – Images of Financial Wholeness is advertised in the current issue of The Living Church magazine.

It is hot here in Salt Lake City (95 degrees Fahrenheit / 35 Celsius), so we will be spending much of our time in the air conditioned buildings.  We enjoyed watching some little kids swimming in the fountain of the mall across the street.  Our first GC meeting is tonight!

IMG_8846

IMG_8854

IMG_8839

IMG_8859

Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

2 Comments

Filed under Church, News & Reviews