“God says, ‘If you don’t love your brother, you don’t know me.'”
That was part of what Bud Gregory of Kairos Prison Ministry of Illinois had to tell of his weekend experiences at Stateville participating in four-day weekend retreats for prisoners.
He, Jerry Sullivan and Mike Calendo were brought to the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake for a meeting of the United Methodist Men Saturday morning by Methodist Church member Ron Idstein to explain what Kairos is all about.
Sullivan is the veteran of the four.
He explained Kairos migrated from Texas in the early 1990’s. The program was introduced at medium security prison in Lincoln and now is given at Stateville, Pontiac and Western. Stateville and Pontiac are maximum security prisons, Western medium.
Forty-two prisoners who normally only get five hours per week outside their cell block at Stateville are brought together at seven tables with six inmates and two volunteers for
- eight hours on Thursday
- twelve hours on Friday
- twelve hours of Saturday
- eight hours on Sunday
Other inducements include homemade cookies and real coffee (as opposed to instant coffee).
Inmates are told that the weekend is an introduction to Christianity.
Most have never had a father figure. The only male role models in their lives have been older gang members.
What the Kairos volunteers try to convey is the unconditional love of Christ.
Besides the cookies and coffee, the main ingredient is the willingness to listen.
This “leads to a trust factor” which allows them to “listen to the message of salvation and forgiveness,” Sullivan explained.
There is a three-year waiting list.
The recruitment strategy is intriguing.
Gang leaders are the first encouraged to attend.
Once one has agreed, other gang leaders, not wanting to be one-upped, tend to sign up as well.
The benefit to the correctional facility, where there are virtually no institutional “correctional” efforts, are less angry, less violent prisoners.
Beginning with a talk on the prodigal son parable, there are a series of talks, which the men then discuss over a never empty tray of homemade cookies.
The unending treats are “a big deal,” Sullivan explained, “a symbol of agape love that will never go dry.”
The weekend leads to a sense that those behind bars are not alone, “a transformation you can’t describe,” he continued.
This is not a weekend experience in isolation.
Idstein told of his three weekends at Stateville.
Apprehensive at first, he found that his “walls…were dropped within the first six hours.”
The walls the prisoners had fell during the same getting acquainted period.
“I’ve been in here twenty years and we’ve built our walls very tall,” one man told him. “You guys have dropped the walls in a weekend.”
“I’m growing as much as the men in the prison,” Idstein said.
He told of a Saturday forgiveness ceremony.
At the beginning of the day, rice paper is distributed. The men are encouraged to write names of those from whom they need forgiveness on it.
When the day is over, they are asked to drop them in a bowl of water, where the paper dissolves.
That is followed by an “open mike” time when the men can talk about this experience.
Mike Calendo, who is the local Kairos outreach person, told of how the ministry had “changed his life.”
He told of the twelve-step admonition that one had to give one’s life away to save it.
“This was the first thing I ever gave my life to,” he said.
“The greatest miracle that happens is to you.”
Explaining what happens at a retreat, Caldendo said, “It was the Holy Spirit. It was the stuff you read about in the Bible right before your eyes.”
Upon learning what Gregory was going to do, a friend told him, “You’re not going to change those guys.”
Gregory’s reply, “Well, maybe not, but God is.”
The commitment is not a small one. The weekend and the reunions are preceded by four Saturday team training/building meetings.
Calendo is the local outreach person. His phone number is 815-219-2444.