by Chaplain Janice Broadie, Central Virginia Correctional Unit
The pandemic was life altering for everyone, but it packed an especially powerful punch for the men and women incarcerated in Virginia’s state prisons. Every facility was placed on a special emergency lockdown status. Virtually all movement out of cellblocks, dorms and living units was halted. Inmates could no longer go to dining halls to eat. Instead, they ate their meals in their cells (or on their bunks in open dorm settings). Inmates could only go outside for recreation in very small groups (social distanced of course). All educational, vocational and treatment programs ceased. All religious services and programs ended, even on holy days and/or for holy seasons. All “worship” and “Bible study” had to be done individually – again in your cell or on your bunk. As COVID cases spread, entire areas of prisons were designated as “Red Zones” – areas where only COVID patients lived and to which no other inmates could go. All family visitation ended – for a period of almost 16 months! If incarceration was a DARK experience before, it now became even DARKER – more frightening and hopeless.
For people that experienced deaths in their families (whether from COVID or from other causes), the long months/years of the pandemic were devastating. I imagine it was even worse for those who were already isolated from their families due to incarceration and who now received no visits due to the pandemic. To hear of the death or transitioning of a loved one and not be able to be present would be inconceivably painful. However, it was a reality for many during the pandemic.
Such was the case for one incarcerated woman at Central Virginia Correctional Unit in Chesterfield, VA when the non-COVID-related death of her only child left her overwhelmed with grief. It was a real blessing for me as her Chaplain to be able to correspond with her regularly via the special, restricted JPay email system during that time. (Before the pandemic, a Chaplain would NEVER have been allowed to send emails to inmates. But the Department of Corrections gave special accounts and special permission for Chaplains to correspond directly with inmates this way during the pandemic. Praise God!) By the grace of God, I was able to encourage this woman during that dark time in her life.
In response to my correspondence she wrote this back to me in an email: “That Still Small Voice called me to jump from my bed and to go over to the email kiosk. I am SO glad that I listened! There I was, lying curled up on my bunk, grappling with my 24/7 grief. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, and I went and saw that your email was waiting for me. Chaplain Broadie, your message brought me SO MUCH PEACE that night, as well as in the days to come. I continue to meditate on your words and on the scripture passages that you sent me. I can’t thank you enough for CARING!!! You truly helped me to make it through that dark time and to again experience the warmth, comfort and LIGHT of God’s love.”
Although we were limited in what we could do as Chaplains during the pandemic, God continued to use us to shine LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS. I feel so honored to serve God and others in this unique mission field!
Chaplain Janice Broadie is one of GraceInside’s 34 Chaplains, serving at all 42 Virginia state correctional facilities, ministering to the needs of nearly 25,000 incarcerated men and women. Truly, thousands of hearts and lives are being changed and transformed by God’s grace in Christ. But this MIRACLE can only continue with YOUR help! Your prayers, caring and giving are what brings “Grace Inside”!!!
Please pray about an end-of-year GIFT to GraceInside (as well as about being a regular supporter in the upcoming year). Whether your donation is large or small, it makes a difference. (And every gift given by December 31st is MATCHED/DOUBLED dollar for dollar up to $10,000! What better time to GIVE???) To people like the woman in this story, our ministry MATTERS! And to all of us here at GraceInside, YOU matter!!!