Did you know that there are hundreds of prison ministry staff and volunteers that visit the more than two million people who are incarcerated in the federal and state prisons, and county jails, across the United States? There are two prison facilities located in Utah: Central Utah Facility, located in Gunnison and Utah State Prison located in Draper. Father Jim Blaine serves at the Utah State Prison and is in charge of Prison Ministry for the Diocese of Salt Lake City which covers the State of Utah.
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I was honored, grateful and fortunate to spend some time with the amazing, blessed and kindhearted Fr. Blaine. I asked him some questions and I typed out his answers (verbatim) below:
What is the difference between Prison Ministry and Jail Ministry?
Well, in prison ministry, I serve from maximum security to minimum security, the women, I sometimes go see the mental health people, all kinds. A lot of them are there for 25-30 and up all the way to life. Where in jail, they are only there for a little bit. Also in prison, they have a little bit more variety of services than they have in jail. Down in the Draper site, there’s about four thousand inmates. Gunnison is a satellite of the Draper site and started out as a minimum security and now they have all kinds. They have over a thousand inmates in Gunnison.
How long have you been doing the Prison Ministry?
This is my twenty-second year.
How did you get started?
Well, I was on sabbatical for a while and then I did 6-7 months of hospital ministry, but I wanted to get back to parish ministry. Bishop Niederauer wanted me to come to here (Saint Peter Catholic Church in American Fork) but he also attached it to the prison. So, I’d be part-time here and part-time there. So, I said, “Well, if the Bishop is willing to give me this, I’m willing to do that”. I did not know how long I would last over there. So, it was rough for the first couple of years, until I got into the swing of things. At first, I started out as a Staff Chaplain. Which meant, I spent twenty hours a week over there and I was paid by the state. Then, eight years ago I was changed over to what they consider volunteer. But, the Diocese subsidizes what I do there and then here with the parish. I still do three to four masses a week there, plus all what I do at this church. But, even before that I was doing twenty hours a week there plus running this.
What has been the hardest part of Prison Ministry?
Dealing with those who do not like religious activities. Which a lot of staff do not like, they would be happier if you are not even there at all.
What is your favorite part?
Working with the inmates. Yup.
How has the prison ministry changed your life?
I feel a little more compassionate for them. Before you can say, “Well, they deserve to be there and all that.” But, then you find out that they are human beings too in the end. They have families that care and they have a life, many have had a very rough life too. They are human and that’s the big thing.
I know that the rosaries have to be breakaway. What are other substitutions that have to be made?
Well, they can’t receive the wine, I’m the only one who can receive it. So, they can’t have communion under both kinds. In fact, I have special clearance from the prison to bring the wine in. They can’t have any metals or anything like that. They can have cloth or wood, but not metal. They could break out and cut their windows, especially in maximum. That’s what someone attempted to do.
Do you serve the women as well as men? Is there a difference in need and response?
They have the same needs. The women, 99.5% of them, are there for maybe for a couple of years, where a lot of the men are there longer. Because most of the women are there for prostitution, forgery or drugs. Now, there are some there for murder, but not too many.
Have you ever felt that you were in danger during your ministry?
Never have. Because we are well respected by a number of the inmates. If something were to happen, they would protect us.
I know that you serve all types of prisoners. Are there any adjustments you have to make?
It depends on where you are at because each one has their own rules. There are the general rules for the prison, but each individual section, there’s about 11 different sections in the Draper site. I only go to about five of them. For Mass: I start at Promontory which has the drug and sex offender program, then Timpanogos is the women’s. Every once in a while, I go to Olympus, and I have volunteers that handle that, but I do go there for confessions and Wasatch is also sex offenders and Oquirrh is just a general for medium to minimum. Those are the ones I usually cover. I was doing three masses, but I’m going back to four in a couple of weeks. So, I’ll have one on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and two on Thursday.