Prison Ministry Project and Jerry Hancock

Event Date: 
Sunday, January 8, 2012 - 10:15am - Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 10:00am

I am writing to bring you up to date on some things that are happening between Jerry Hancock and our Prison Ministry Project (PMP) on the one hand, and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) on the other. In October, Jerry was told that he was barred from going to any Wisconsin prisons and also from having any kind of contact with prisoners. They said he was under investigation for “fraternization,” which is their term for having violated one of their rules. 

People like Jerry and other members of our church who run programs for inmates in prisons (like Restorative Justice programs, Family Connections, worship services, and others) are classified by the DOC as “volunteers”; and according to their rules, volunteers are not supposed to have any contact with individual inmates outside of the programs –  no correspondence, no communication with inmates’ families, etc. People who have those kinds of one-on-one contacts are classified as pastoral visitors. According to some DOC officials, being a pastoral visitor and being a volunteer are incompatible.
After our Prison Ministry Project had been up and running for a couple of years, it became clear to Jerry that the PMP was providing both kinds of programs and services to men in prison; so Jerry wrote a letter to the then-Secretary of the DOC explaining the full range of programs and services that the PMP offered. A few months later, Jerry had a meeting with the Secretary of DOC and other officials in the department. He once again explained fully what he and the other people in the PMP were doing and took in specific examples of the programs and services we provide. There were no objections expressed at the meeting, or afterwards, to any of the actions or relationships of anyone in our PMP. In fact, members of the Department were very positive about our programs. (Prison staff have been very positive about our programs ever since we began. Chaplains and social workers who have regular contacts with inmates are some of our biggest supporters. They see the positive effect that Restorative Justice and regular visitation can have on inmates’ lives. Members of the PMP were “inside the walls” over 400 times in 2011. When you consider how infrequently inmates have contact with outside folks, that is really important.) It is important to understand that all programs, services and pastoral visits we provide are done with complete openness and with the full knowledge of prison staff. Scheduling is done through them. Nothing is secret or hidden.
In addition to barring Jerry, Janet Pugh and Gina Golding, who have also been caught up in this investigation, several inmates – including a person received into membership in our church – have been put in segregation and have had their correspondence with the PMP confiscated. I have received letters from several of those men; and the fear, loneliness, anxiety and isolation in their letters is palpable. I am not being sentimental. These are not innocent, starving Somali children; they are adult men who committed terrible crimes. But God loves them just as God loves Somali children and my grandchildren and you and everyone else. They are deserving of our care and our ministry. And they are deserving of better treatment than they are receiving right now from the DOC.
Jerry, Paul Karch and I will meet with the Secretary and senior staff of DOC on Friday afternoon, January 6. Because so much has been unexplained so far, we will go with lots of questions and concerns. We are hoping to come to some understanding and resolution at that meeting, but that is not guaranteed. We will certainly be willing to talk about that meeting, and about what has happened so far, at the Prison Ministry luncheon and program after worship on January 8. Please keep Jerry and the whole PMP in your thoughts and prayers.

Posted on January 3, 2012 at 11:53 am in Featured Content.

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