Details About My Brief Time Behind Bars Last Week

Last Wednesday, I was down in Charlotte to prepare for the Envoy Institute gala event honoring Archbishop Charles Chaput the following evening. But Wednesday night I spent some time behind bars speaking to a group of inmates at a correctional facility in North Carolina. I was surprised and impressed by the experience.

At the kind invitation of Mrs. Phyllis Ryan, a Catholic lady who is very involved with the local prison apostolate, I was given permission by the prison to deliver a presentation on the Catholic Faith to any inmates who wanted to attend. My talk went from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., followed by a freewheeling hour-long Q-&-A session. I don’t know about the guys in the audience, but I can tell you that it was a great experience for me!

I asked for a show of hands at the start of my talk and found that of the 20 or so men attending, only perhaps 5 were Catholic. The others were Protestants of various denominations, but mostly Southern Baptist. They were engaged, respectful, curious, and had come prepared with literally dozens of excellent and, at times, sophisticated questions about the Catholic Church.

I spoke on the theme of “Why Be Catholic?”, laying out as best I could the historical and biblical case for the Catholic Church (at least insofar as such a vast subject could be covered in an hour). This was a subject that most of the guys there clearly had never been exposed to, so the resulting Q-&-A session was lively but friendly and mutually respectful. Afterwards, Phyllis mentioned to me that one of the men who had been peppering me with the most questions was a Protestant who referred to himself as a Messianic Jew. That would explain, I thought to myself, why so many of his questions had to do with the Sunday/Sabbath issue and related Jewish subjects.

Many of the Catholic inmates, I discovered, are avidly interested in Scripture study and apologetics, and have been meeting weekly to discuss and learn about how to better understand, explain, and defend their Catholic beliefs. It was inspirational for me, and I hope the stacks of Envoy Magazines we left behind for them will have a good effect. That’s something I’d ask you to keep in your prayers.

After my two hours were up, I was escorted back through the padlocked gate in the high chain-link fence topped by a menacing roll of razor wire. A place easy to get into and basically impossible to get out of, unless you’ve served your sentence or unless you were a guest and it was time to leave.

“These men may deserve to have their liberty taken from them,” I thought to myself, “but they definitely don’t deserve to have their Catholic Faith taken from them.” I hope I have the chance to do more of these kinds of prison visits.


  1. Victoria Walters

    Thank you! Both for taking the time to go behind bars, and for posting about it, here. As one who has spent the last 21 years devoted to prison ministry, I am of the opinion that there is no work more worthy nor more rewarding than being party to the change Our Father is effecting in the lives of men and women who are (literally) captive to their sin.

  2. Former

    Hello Patrick,Coming from a former inmate, I can say that I'm sure these men appreciated your talk there. The pressure on Catholics from protestants (on Faith matters) is intense and many Catholic inmates aren't prepared to deal with it.For me, it was "Catholic Family Radio" out of Milwaukee that SAVED my life some years back…..otherwise I likely would have lost hope. This was around the year 2000. They carried some programs from Ave Maria Radio and EWTN. I was lucky to have a radio. I used to listen to a public radio station on FM. One night I accidentally bumped the AM/FM switch in my sleep. I awoke to hear Catholic mass very quietly on the radio….with much surprise. My heart was filled with joy to be able to hear the Catholic programs they offered….it was like a spring of cool water in the desert…. I rarely missed an afternoon listening to Al Kresta's program.

  3. angelfangomer

    Thanx for sharing your experience with all of us. I wish I could've been a fly on the wall!

  4. Jeff

    What a great thing to do. Im glad to hear it meant just as much to you as it did to them.

  5. pennyyak

    Thank you for doing this Patrick. I was in jail 4 and a half months (I assure you, I can tell you the exact number of days, if not hours) awaiting trial some years ago (no money for bail). A wonderfully faithful woman from my local church came by every week, and many Protestants also would join the discussion and Scripture reading and prayer. She brought me a specific prayer card I asked for (a fairly obscure one), and it was like all my Christmas mornings in one. Small things mean so much in that very sterile and dark environment. I know you have many readers. I do hope a few will become interested in looking into prison ministries at their local jails and state prisons.

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