Written by Kate Nava, Vice President, Dismas Ministry Board of Directors 

Kate Nava, Vice President, Dismas Ministry Board of Directors

I’m Mary Kate Nava, Dismas Board Member. I’m recently connected with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Laredo, Texas, where Bishop James A. Tamayo’s team directed our collaboration with Deacon and Prison Minister Enrique Peñuñuri.

I accompanied Deacon Enrique who routinely delivers God’s Word in lecture and prayer sessions for incarcerated men and women across Laredo, the third largest city on the US-Mexico border.

Deacon Enrique and Kate Nava in front of La Salle Regional Center for Women

With appropriate clearances in place, we visited groups of inmates at La Salle County Regional Detention Center in Encinal, Texas, and the Webb County Detention Center in Laredo.

I reminded my unsettled self of Paul Claudel’s insight: “Lent is meant to be the springtime of our hearts. The season when snow melts, sap runs, and new life springs up from the barren ground.”

Our first stop was the La Salle Regional Center for women. After passing security, we were escorted to an empty multi-purpose room where a simple preparation took place. We arranged chairs in rows at the appropriate separation distances, and at the front of the room, a folding table with a white cloth and simple crucifix was centered. Women inmates of all ages were escorted into the now-less-stark, cinderblock room.  A deafening slam of the steel door locked us together with an astute guard and with God, which suddenly warmed the space with holiness.

Deacon Enrique opened with a blessing, and his words paralleled Psalm 19. He reminded the women that the Word of God is directed to each one of them as His daughters. Pointing at the cinderblock wall, he suggested each block is akin to life and the stages therein. One block is birth, then youth, perhaps marriage and the blessing of children, work or profession, friendships, family, and freedom. “And one block, is this place,” he suggested. “God has directed you to use this time you’ve been assigned to come closer to Him. Take and embrace without distraction the possibilities and realities of His goodness from this temporary time. Do this in lieu of counting the days. Participate in God’s way and receive His generous gifts and virtues.”

In closing, we prayed the words our Savior gave us: the Lord’s Prayer. My right hand automatically rose to hold that of my neighboring seatmate. The guard, following policy, shook her head toward me, indicating No.

Time was up; the women arose and seamlessly fell into queue. Many had a lovely glow, and others appeared calm or contrite. Clearly, “New life springs up from the barren ground.”

Webb County Detention Center in Laredo

Our second visit took a similar format with male inmates at the Webb County Detention Center in Laredo. (This unit is operated by CoreCivic, a processing center for Immigration ICE.) The men arrived with actual eagerness. Deacon Enrique urged the men to become followers of God during this time. He strongly discouraged “labeling” any fellow inmate as an enemy, and to erase and abandon the “eye for an eye…tooth for a tooth” approach. “If a fellow is angry or aggressive toward you or others, instead of watching TV, or napping, invest your time in taking interest in him.” He gave some examples, starting with “you seem very sad or mad. What’s going on? We have plenty of time to talk about what you’re feeling or going through.” Other approaches to the most aggressive can start with: “Matthew, how did you get to be so great at basketball? Draw out your brothers. Assure them that God knows each of them. Have no enemies nor fall to the level of labeling your brothers. In becoming amigos, in this scenario, one truly becomes a genuine Disciple of Christ.”

Once more, we wrapped up with a prayer and the prisoners in their bright orange uniforms fell into queue. This time I observed the majority had smiles and even a little more “spring” in their steps.

This Lenten Season, new life indeed is springing up from barren ground.

Kate Nava is a Dismas Ministry board member based near Dallas, Texas. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Oregon and a master’s in business administration from Notre Dame de Namur University in California. Kate’s career path included work in the airline industry and higher education. A devout Catholic, Kate lives her faith through loving service to family, friends, and neighbors in need in her community.


2 replies
  1. Greg Schrumpf
    Greg Schrumpf says:

    Yes, the purpose of incarceration is to contemplate, not on a calendar, on the word of God. Drug/alcohol addiction as pointed out by Carl Jung is a spiritual malady with a spiritual solution. (AA Big Book) This has been and continues to be my experience. In an article I wrote for “Inner Realm” magazine in 2017 I pointed out the similarities between Monasteries and Prisons! They are both big buildings where people can think about God. Viewed in this light our “time” is of great value, not great harm.

    • Carolyn
      Carolyn says:

      God bless Kate, Deacon Enrique, and every person involved in Prison Ministry. You offer hope and redemption to so many people.

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