This Practitioner Corner is by Aikya Param, R.Sc.P., Staff Practitioner and Prison Ministry Coordinator at First Church.     
Why Reach Out to People in Prison? 
I began work in Prison Ministry because of Spirit.  In Amy Fetterman and Terri Peterson's book, Who's Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation, they say:
"There can be something beautiful about recognizing that we are not the author of [our own life] plan. . . .It does sometimes mean letting go of the best laid plans we are consistently trying to follow and following Spirit instead.  Occasionally she will lead us to places or activities or work or ideas we would never have considered.  Usually she will lead us exactly where we need to go.  She might lead us to exactly the opposite of where we wanted to go.  None of these is inherently bad (unless you follow what you think is the Spirit and end up hurting others, yourself, or the planet).  The point. . . is to let go just a little bit so that God can move in your life and in the life of the world."  
Spirit led me to recruit many spiritual people to write letters to inmates and to send them spiritual books.  
How can I explain to those who have never been impacted by the prison-industrial complex, who do not have family members who have, why they should care about people in prison? Tana Alert, one of my volunteers, took my breath away with her answer.  It was, "Everybody makes mistakes.  Everybody needs forgiveness.  Everyone is part of God.  No one should be forgotten."  
For centuries, Western Europeans have focused on externals -- on machinery, technology and material development -- on what is OUTSIDE rather than the INNER life.  That can produce a better can opener, but not well-being or happiness.  In the news we see that outer focus in proposed federal legislation.  Some people wonder what happened to kindness and compassion?  What happened to looking out for others?  
In some world cultures and spiritual traditions, people intentionally teach empathy and compassion, kindness and altruism, to both boys and girls.  For some years, people in the United States have realized the need for our culture to do the same.  At Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, leaders from diverse fields have studied how traditional approaches from non-dominant and world cultures could be adapted for today, right here.  Scientific studies on how the brain works show that empathy, kindness and compassion toward ourselves and others ultimately helps brain function.  Neuroscience researchers and writers like Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman (who have a monthly column in Science of Mind magazine) contribute to the Center for Compassion Research, and use and share the findings of others at Stanford.  
Jesus says that, after loving God with everything you have, the second most important commandment is "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31)  The part of this commandment that many overlook is that you must first love yourself.  [See David Ault's reference to Louise Hay's work in Rev. Jacquelyn's blog for September.]  You must be kind and compassionate toward yourself.  To the degree that this is true for you, to that degree will you be able to love and be kind and compassionate to others.  This is the key to a happy life as well as to reaching out to others who might otherwise be forgotten.  
There is only One here.  We are all interconnected.  Every act of kindness and generosity improves the well-being of all.  
Blessed Be,    
Note:  On the fourth Sunday of each month, Aikya and her volunteers meet to prepare birthday cards to send to inmates at various correctional facilities in our area.  You are invited to join this committed group!