Chester parishioners ‘visit the imprisoned’
When the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield opened 20 years ago, Kathryn Poston knew she wanted to volunteer there. “I just felt compelled. I felt it was something I needed to do,” said the parishioner of Holy Family Parish’s St. Joseph Church in nearby Chester.
A trained teacher, she began helping inmates with their resumes; later she became a member of the school board for the prison.
But her involvement grew beyond academics.
A retired high school special education para professional, she and her husband, Richard — a retired high school science teacher — began assisting with weekly Catholic communion services, and eventually they took charge of them.
Working with local clergy through the years, the Postons’ prison ministry service has evolved. The couple — married for 52 years — visit inmates every week. Mass is celebrated once a month, and, when needed, the Postons fill in for the deacon who now conducts communion services once a week in the other weeks.
Deacon RJ Dourney of St. Charles Parish in Bellows Falls also conducts the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program in the prison and leads the rosary after the communion service he conducts.
But the Postons remain involved. They enjoy their conversations as they prepare to lead discussions about the scripture readings; “it’s a way to continue our growth” in the faith, Mr. Poston said.
Mrs. Poston appreciates the reception she and her husband receive from the 8-20 incarcerated men who participate in the religious services. She described them as kind, polite, reverent, and thankful.
Prison ministry, her husband said, gave him “a different take on these guys.”
The Postons often are asked if they are afraid to go into the prison, and one inmate attributed such questions to “PMS: Prison Movie Syndrome.”
But they are not afraid. “We are committed to them,” said the father of four, noting that visiting the imprisoned is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.
“We are all equally children of God,” Mrs. Poston said. “It’s hard to know the circumstances under which people committed a crime. Some have committed terrible crimes. … I believe in redemption.”
She tells the men she meets in prison not to judge themselves by the worst thing they have ever done and not to let others judge them based on that. “That’s not who you are. That’s what you did. Don’t let that define you as a person,” she tells them. “Figure out who you want to become.”
Mr. Poston likes to tell the inmates that if Jesus were on a bus traveling south on Route 91 that got off at exit 7 in Springfield, “the first place he would stop is this prison,” located near the interstate. “He comes for His lost sheep, and the first thing he would say is, ‘I’m glad you want to see me. Let’s talk.’”
If anyone would like to support prison ministry in the Diocese of Burlington, Mr. Poston suggests support for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal which provides funding for prison programs, support for Dismas Houses of transition for former inmates, contributing to collections of needed personal care items for prisoners or volunteering for a prison program.
—Originally published in the Winter 2023 edition of Vermont Catholic magazine.