Prison ministry programs struggling amid COVID-19 concerns

Updated: Aug. 16, 2020 at 9:38 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - In the middle of a health crisis, South Mississippi prisons are getting by with less ministry than they’re used to.

“2020 is the year of let’s see how crazy life can get.” said Tony Graham, Harrison County Adult Detention Center Chaplain.

Inmates now have access to less faith-based resources due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic. Daily Bible studies and classes have been reduced in order to limit the amount of people in a room and who can preach inside of the facilities.

“They’re trying to limit the amount of people that are coming into the jail,” said Graham. “So I have no volunteers. No ministers coming in to do visits.”

Since the restrictions were set, Graham has been leading classes by himself as one of the prison’s essential workers. But, Catholic leaders are waiting on approval before they can head back to work.

“We got two things to deal with, the prison system, when we can come back in,” said Deacon Gerald Pickich. “And then also to get the word back from the bishop saying okay it’s safe.”

The lack of consistent services have organizers worried about the inmates. They also have concerns about the volunteers and other workers that helped spread the faith.

“A lot of deacons are getting up in age,” said Pickich. “I think that has to be looked at (before we go back).”

Despite the risk of infection, volunteers are waiting for the day they can return to work.

“Most of them are eager to get back to it. They enjoy what they do. They see value in it,” said Graham.

While the restrictions cause frustrations, there is a level of understanding.

“I don’t like what’s happening here as far as the limitations on ministry but I understand,” said Graham. “It’s where we are with this coronavirus.”

For now, all they can do is keep the faith.

“Something good has got to come out of all of this,” said Pickich. “We got to end up on the good side of this.”

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