Much of the content for this post comes from the spring 2014 Issue of "Inside Corrections: The Quarterly Newsletter of the New Jersey Department of Corrections." We are pleased to share it with you. Thanks to the New Jersey Synod Office for passing it along!
Pastor Carl Browne is a Chaplain for the New Jersey Department of corrections. He shepherds a worshipping community of inmates at Mid-State Correctional Facility. This past spring, a group of churchgoers came together who were committed to making a difference in the lives of others. On Palm Sunday of 2014, the assembled worshippers collected $474 in offerings to support the ELCA Malaria Campaign.
"The inmates came up with the idea, they selected the charities they wanted to support – they researched the percentage of each donation that went to the actual cause, as opposed to overhead – and they saw it through," Pastor Browne said. "They were motivated by a desire to help those in need, which is an indication that they have begun to shift their focus. Many inmates are focused inwardly, but these men are now focusing on the outside. They are becoming increasingly aware of the world around them."
When inmate Sean McGuirk was first made aware of the possibility of inmates supporting a charitable endeavor, he was admittedly unsure how many of his fellow offenders might share his enthusiasm.
"As inmates, you don't have much in the way of finances," he said. "I was hoping for the best, but I found the overall response to be pretty overwhelming. It seemed as if everyone realized the need that existed as well as what could be accomplished collectively. When a man is in prison, it can be dehumanizing," he continued, "but the fact that these men were willing to do what they could to help meet the needs of strangers shows that there's more to this population than a uniform and a charge."
"Once we saw what was possible, it would have been a shame to stop," Wayne Whitfield noted. "The amount of money raised wasn't what's most important. The thing that really mattered was the willingness of so many people to participate."
Through his participation, Whitfield learned lessons about himself that he hadn't known – or perhaps that he had known but wouldn't acknowledge. "When I was on the streets, I didn't give anything to charities," he confessed, "but what I've done, what so many of us here have done, has lifted my spirits so much. It's just amazing." In addition to the ELCA Malaria Campaign, the group has also collected money for UNICEF.
We have seen time and time again that the ELCA Malaria Campaign is about more than raising money for malaria programming. In this case, it inspired people to look beyond themselves, and brought them the joy of knowing that they are supporting life-saving work. We are grateful to God for the ministry of Pastor Browne, and his congregation at Mid-State Correctional Facility. Thank you!