Mission Minute: Claudine Werner
Written by Joshua Stancil
For this week’s Mission Minute, I reached out to Claudine Werner, who is active in prison ministry in Oregon. She kindly agreed to share her experience as a volunteer at Coffee Creek Correctional Institute.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you found yourself ministering to inmates…
Claudine: When I retired from teaching high school business classes, my daughter suggested I should volunteer at Coffee Creek Correctional Institute. The Oregon women’s prison was located not far from where she worked, and one of her co-workers had volunteered there. I didn’t follow through at that time, but about two years later, a member of my parish, Carole, invited me to join her as a volunteer at Coffee Creek. She knew the process for getting involved.
Q: What do you think inmates most benefit from in the interactions with volunteers?
Claudine: We have heard from the chaplain at Coffee Creek that the ladies very much appreciate our presence and the sharing of our faith. And we, too, can say that we have suffered from gossip and betrayal in our lives. We are not different, really, and it helps the ladies to see that.
Q: Any changes you’ve seen in yourself since becoming a volunteer?
Claudine: At first I was, of course, a little nervous about entering into the heart of a prison. But after attending some workshops and a conference for volunteers at Coffee Creek, my heart totally changed. Hearing the personal stories from women who grew up with abuse, parents who had failed them, and society’s dismissal of their worth, I soon understood that these ladies are hungry for the peace, love, and mercy of Christ. One of the chaplains at Coffee Creek asked if I would be willing to be a mentor. I am now meeting with my third candidate. Sharing confidences with other females usually ends painfully in prison, so speaking with an outsider is considered safer. The stories I’ve heard are heart-breaking and inspire me to do what I can to show love and concern.
Q: What have you learned about prison ministry that most people would find surprising?
Claudine: When a woman first arrives at Coffee Creek, she is usually angry and bitter. And yet, several ladies have told me that prison was the best thing to happen to them. They are in a safe place now and can focus on healing. I’ve attended some holiday celebrations for volunteers, and the inmates who were there spoke of the healing process they have gone through and the huge changes in their lives.
Q: Any unusual stories from your time as a volunteer?
Claudine: There was this one incident when I attended the final training session for new volunteers. While waiting for the speaker, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. One young lady dressed all in black introduced herself as a volunteer with the Pagan worship group. Eventually I introduced myself as a volunteer with the Roman Catholic services, and for the rest of the evening, whenever I looked around the room, the young lady in black was glaring at me.
Q: How did you hear about Dismas Ministry?
Claudine: Our Archdiocese sponsored a conference for volunteers in prison ministry. Ron Zeilinger, who started Dismas Ministry, was the main speaker. After hearing about the booklets available, I decided to place an order for the ladies at the prison. As a teacher, I knew they would love to expand their knowledge and grow in the faith. And sure enough, every booklet was snapped up immediately. As another volunteer told me, “They sure love those booklets!” Dismas Ministry also sent a large shipment of Bibles. Everyone wants her own Bible!
Joshua Stancil is a Dismas Ministry board member, a published author, and a native of North Carolina. A frequent speaker at restorative justice conferences in both America and abroad, his writing has appeared in Magnificat, Traces, and Convivium. Joshua is the author of the Dismas Ministry blog series, Mission Minute: Profiles in Prison Ministry, found at dismasministry.org/blog. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org