Gratitude from the Heart of a Chaplain: “Corrections: A Noble Profession”

As Chaplain Ritter closes his chapter at Augusta Correctional Center and begins his transition to Keen Mountain, he offered these thoughts to his colleagues.

Corrections: a Noble Profession

As I come to the end of six years as Chaplain at Augusta Correctional Center, I conclude that corrections is a noble, and often thankless profession. Friends and family members wonder, “Why are you a corrections officer, counselor, educator, or chaplain in a prison. Couldn’t you do better in life; make a better salary, work with better people? Couldn’t you find a better job?”   I have seen each of you in action and am amazed by the professionalism exhibited the staff at Augusta, and the Virginia Department of Corrections as a whole. Read the headlines of any Virginia newspaper, major and minor, over a month’s time and you will find stories of men whom a judge sentenced to more than 24 months in prison. Some are sentenced for many years at a time. The Virginia Code, prosecutors, and juries have said that we do not want “these people” in our neighborhoods. “Take them someplace else” We will turn them over to the Department of Corrections community and let DOC staff deal with them.

The corrections staff, officers, counselors, medical personnel, kitchen staff, education, building and grounds, farms, warehouse, welding shops, water treatment facilities, and other departments that make a small town work take the offenders sentenced to multiple years in prison and attempt, with limited time, funds and tools, to transform the individual from a law breaker to a law abiding citizen that Virginians would welcome into their neighborhoods. The keyword in here is “transform.”

The Department of Corrections mission is to “enhance the quality of life in Virginia by improving public safety”. That means that we will provide a safe place for staff and offenders to learn to be the best that they can be which foster growth and development. If you read the Strategic plan 2013-2018 of VADOC, Goal #2 states the strategic theme is to cultivate an understanding and commitment to transform lives. We use evidence-based practice to evaluate what works and what does not. We keep what works and end those that do not. As a Chaplain and a Christian, I have a mission, like the Department of Corrections. “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28: 19-20). As a United Methodist pastor appointed to GraceInside who appoints me to Augusta, I am to “make disciples for the transformation of the world.”  Prison gives men time to think about what is most important it their lives, and many open up to the numerous possibilities of the spirit. They begin a process of transformation. That word transform keeps coming up.

Transform means to change from the inside. The idea of transform comes from the Greek work Metamorphose. A monarch caterpillar looks nothing like a monarch butterfly. When a person leaves the institution, to parole or community corrections, he should leave transformed, changed from the inside. Prison can be either a positive experience fostering the inner change, or a negative experience squelching that change. The Phoenix is an ideal symbol for this transformation. The Phoenix is a mythical bird that, as the myth goes, flies toward the sun every 500 years and is burned up, but out of the ashes of the old bird, arises a new bird to continue its journey. We are all, staff and offenders, on a spiritual journey of transformation. As we fly toward the future, many things are burned up, and we have to let go of old ways of doing things, old patterns of thinking, old habits, old relationships. Yet out of our ashen and scorched bodies, something new, transformed arises. We will find what we truly seek. If we ask, it will be given, if we knock, the door will open.

Metamorphosis of the individual begins with the professionalism of the staff, treating everyone with respect, and holding each other accountable for small, daily actions. Remember, you are in a noble profession.

 

Your chaplain

Chaplain Ritter

 

GraceInside July 6, 2017