2022 Joan Chittister Fund for Prisoners Appeal
Why did I start the Fund for Prisoners over 16 years ago? This story by the Persian poet Rumi is the reason:
Add a person in prison to your Christmas list. For a donation of only $12 we will send a special Christmas gift, a one-year subscription to The Monastic Way, to a prisoner.
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A prisoner is sent a little prayer rug by a friend. A prayer rug? He had been hoping for a file or even a crowbar, something to help him escape. But out of curiosity, or simply boredom, he begins to use the prayer rug, bowing toward Mecca five times a day. In the course of these prostrations, he notices a curious pattern on the rug, just at the “niche,” the point where his head touches it. What can it be? He returns to the spot over and over, studying it carefully for several months. Finally, he understands what he is looking at. Woven into the rug is a special diagram: a guide to the lock in his cell door. Now at last he will be able to escape.
Over four thousand prisoners across the country receive a “prayer rug” from us, too. But our prayer rug is a free publication—either my monthly reflection piece, The Monastic Way, or a journal or calendar, both containing inspiring and soul-searching texts. Like the story suggests, we believe that our “prayer rugs” also can contain a guide to freedom.
By praying with the art and wisdom found in these calendars, or by talking about The Monastic Way discussion questions with one of our prison chaplains, or by looking inside themselves as they write in one of the journals we provide, the prisoners find a means of escape. They escape from the belief that they are limited to their old kind of lifestyle. They escape from the feelings of shame and anger that would condemn them to make more and more negative decisions. And they escape from the fear that no one outside of prison cares about them, thinks about them, or has hope for them, because each book, calendar, and journal is a reminder that someone does care.
The generosity of people like you, people who choose to give to the Joan Chittister Fund for Prisoners, allows us to continue this work, sending materials to people incarcerated in one hundred prisons across the country.
We know from the letters we receive from both prisoners and the chaplains and volunteers who serve them, that it can be transformative to devote regular time to read, study, reflect, and even with discuss with others, our spiritual resources.
Let me share two examples with you.
We received a letter this summer from a man who has been in prison for forty-three years, serving a long sentence for killing his wife. He explained that he has been reading novels, poetry, and spiritual books during his sentence, as part of his “long journey from darkness to light.” But it was an issue of The Monastic Way that ultimately affected him most deeply. He wrote, “When I read what you wrote about a woman’s life in a man’s church and world, for the first time in my life, I really got it. Putting myself in a woman’s shoes, I almost collapsed, feeling like the young woman I murdered long ago. You have helped me learn empathy… I now feel that I can really change who I am. Thank you for your work helping others, even men like me.”
We also heard from a woman who was recently released from being imprisoned for drug-related offenses. She explained that because the journals she received from us were so important to her recovery, she wanted to donate more of them to the prison where she had been incarcerated, to be used by the women who are still there. She is thinking of the growth that they are capable of, and wants to give them the opportunities that meant so much to her.
These stories are why we began the Joan Chittister Fund for Prisoners over 16 years ago. There are countless prisoners across the country who, like the man in the story, can use the simple gifts that we send them to discover a pattern or guide to inner liberation. It can lead to true rehabilitation. Thank you for your participation in this outreach. We are grateful for all that you give to make these gifts, these keys to freedom, possible.
Joan Chittister and the Benetvision staff
In 2021, even with the pandemic, the Joan Chittister Fund for Prisoners distributed more than $82,000 in Monastic Way subscriptions and other materials to over 3,000 people in prison across the country.
The Monastic Way, Joan Chittister’s monthly reflection publication, is available FREE in digital form for
individual subscribers. Monastic Ways are still printed and sent in bulk to our incarcerated sisters and