28 February 2011

Wednesday, 28 February 2001

10:58am. We've been holding Open Chapel for almost two hours. Two more minutes and we'll clear the place and everyone will head for lunch. It has been a busy morning, a never-ending line outside my office with requests for prayer, for a rosary, for an explanation about something Catholics do or believe. A regular kind of day at the prison.


There is a rumble and then a groan. The noise level in the chapel goes up and then it is suddenly quiet. The bookcase behind me is threatening to dump catechisms and commentaries on my head. The building is swaying, on the diagonal. Is that possible?

I grew up in Central California. I know what this is. "Earthquake!" I yell. "Everyone out!" The chapel/education building is concrete and rebar but I'd rather be outside than inside with this kind of motion.

The move to the sidewalk is quick. A 20-something from Minnesota pulls on my arm. His eyes are wide. "Is it like this around here all the time?" Poor guy. Welcome to the Northwest where earthquakes rumble and volcanoes blow. We live on the wild side here.

It was Ash Wednesday that day, but we never did distribute ashes. Everything shut down for the rest of the day. A co-worker made it in after barely missing the collapse of part of the highway. Most everyone had to find a different way home later that afternoon.

September brought another day of ashes that year.

I think of the faces that surrounded me that day when the earthquake hit. Many of them are back in their communities now because they finished serving their sentences. Some of them are back in again. A few are dead. And yet, still God is with us, riding the crest of the earthquake that rattles buildings and shakes hearts. God is with us.

24 February 2011

Do You Need Permission?

Rodney Clapp has a great article at Christian Century about why we need people to pray for us. This is what I bring into the jail. When people tell me they are having a hard time praying, I tell them about the people outside who are praying for them. "Let their prayer carry you for a while."
If they are bored with their own prayers, their own concerns, I give them a name of someone outside and say, "Here's someone who needs your prayer." It is a wonderful exchange, a purposeful act. Go read what Rodney Clapp has to say about it.


12 February 2011

And Still the Questions Come

from the Seattle Times This is a story from the detectives who interviewed the man accused of killing Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl.

Take a few moments and see if you can list all the people in need of prayer around this incident.

Then multiply that by 10.

And again.

06 February 2011

Keeping Silence

The thirteen prisons in the state observed a moment of silence on Sunday at 1:35pm to honor Officer Jayme Biendl. It was her birthday.

Her death a week ago has affected corrections officers as well as police officers and their families, offenders and their families, Department of Corrections decision-makers and staff. There's a huge running debate on news blogs about the dangers of women working in prisons--mostly written by people who have no idea what it is like to work in prison. Much of the knee-jerk reaction amounts to, "Make life miserable for anyone behind bars. They deserve it."

Every now and then someone will remind those commenting that 96% of those in prison will someday be returning to the community. What kind of mood do you want them to be in when they get out?

There are serious questions to be addressed: Why didn't anyone look for the chapel officer when they located the missing offender in the chapel? Why did it take an hour before anyone went looking for her? What will be done to begin the healing?

In the town where I live, a "Moment of Blessing" happens any place there has been a murder. It is a way of reclaiming the space, a way to say, "There was more to this person than how she died." In that spirit, I hope there is some special prayer in the chapel at Monroe, that people will gather to reclaim the goodness that can happen in prison. Jayme Biendl was part of that goodness.


01 February 2011

Please pray for Jayme Biendl

Jayme Biendl was a corrections officer at the Monroe Correctional Center north of Seattle. She was strangled to death last Saturday night during her shift at the chapel.

One of the news stories is here 

An offender who was not in his cell for the evening count was found in the chapel at 9:15pm. He told the officers that he'd been planning to escape, but had decided against it. They handcuffed him and took him to a segregation cell.

An hour later, Biendl's keys and radio still hadn't been turned in. Officers returned to the chapel area and found her dead.

It's a chilling story and it has repercussions at all the prisons and jails around the state. Please pray for Jayme, for her friends and family, and for her co-workers who continue to do a job that is dangerous every day.