Prison ministry to be restarted

BLESSED: The inmates of the GEO prison in Lake County will soon have access to a Christian ministry program organized by Father Ron Schneider of St. Ann's Catholic Church. (Star File Photo)
BLESSED: The inmates of the GEO prison in Lake County will soon have access to a Christian ministry program organized by Father Ron Schneider of St. Ann's Catholic Church. (Star File Photo)

BALDWIN — Now that the North Lake GEO Prison has reopened, Father Ron Schneider, pastor of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Baldwin, plans to restart the prison ministry program which was formed the last time the facility was active.

The previous group disbanded when the prison was closed in 2010, but now Schneider and the remaining volunteers from the previous program are looking for some new members to assist them with their mission.

"Doing this gives us a chance to fulfill God's great mandate to be there for the least among us," remarked Schneider. "He specifically mentions in Matthew 25, 'when I was in prison, you visited me.' This gives us a chance to do so literally."

The group shares Christian messages with prisoners who choose to take part, they read from the Bible and offer communion to those who want to take part in the sacrament.

"We go in and do scripture and communion service," explained Schneider. "We were going in once a week before with eight people on the team. We worked with them as a group instead of on a one-to-one basis."

Schneider said this program can provide a huge benefit for people who are in prison. It can help them with both their time locked up and with their lives afterward.

"Doing this gives these individuals a spiritual dimension while they are incarcerated," said Schneider. "It gives them a connection and a relationship to the outside world and it reminds them they have value and being locked up doesn't have to mean the end for them."

The process for starting the program takes time. Schneider hopes to be up and running in early 2016. Joining the group takes not only the right attitude towards helping those at the prison, but training and security measures as well.

"The last time we started the ministry, I first contacted our prison ministry office at the archdiocese in Grand Rapids and they made arrangements with the prison," said Schneider. "They gave our people training while the prison did orientation and the required background checks. We've begun this process again in anticipation of restarting the ministry."

Schneider says he was hesitant to get the ministry going once more since the group was blindsided the last time the prison was closed down. He doesn't want volunteers to put in a large amount of training and work only to have the rug pulled out from under them. Despite these misgivings, he and the other remaining volunteers from the previous ministry are moving forward with their preparations because they view this ministry as very important work.

"People who have made great mistakes in their lives are still loved by God and need to be loved by us," said Schneider. "As Christian people, we always have a responsibility to help people be reconciled and get the second chance they deserve in life. We need to overcome the attitude of locking people up and throwing away the key."

For more information, contact Schneider at (231) 745-7997.