By Gordon Nary
Gordon: The Kolbe House website has a great history on the creation of a jail ministry by the Archdiocese of Chicago and the history of Kolbe House in participating in this ministry. What attracted you to ministering to our jail population?
Deacon Perez: I felt was at a point in my life that I need to do a job that help people change their life and that’s what attracted me the jail Ministry. I would be able to do directly with the men and women incarcerated.
Gordon: What special training is necessary to be a jail minister?
Deacon Perez: We require that a volunteer has some kind of ministry in a parish. We prefer Lectors or Communion Ministers and the ability and concern to listen to people.
Gordon: Can you estimate approximately how many prisoners to whom Kolbe House has ministered during 2014?
Deacon Perez: I would say thousands currently Cook County has about 10,000 men and women incarcerated. We do services from Tuesday to Friday.
Gordon: As a deacon, what are your primary ministry responsibilities to inmates?
Deacon Perez: To do Communion services and give them Communion. To talk to them listen to what their needs or struggles are, and pray for them. I also contact their family and let them know I have visited their family member .
Gordon: Approximately to how many inmates do you minister each month?
Deacon Perez: No one has ever asked that question to me. I would say a few hundred but it could be more at times.
Gordon: How do you solicit volunteers to help you in your mission?
Deacon Perez: On our website and when I go to parishes and talk about the Jail Ministry, and at times during radio programs to which I am invited to talk about our Ministry.
Gordon: How do volunteers assist you in your mission?
Deacon Perez: By going in to the jail and assist in Communion services .and letting their parish know about Kolbe House Jail Ministry.
Gordon: What are some of the most challenging questions that you have been asked during your ministry?
Deacon Perez: Could you help me pray for my mom? She just died.
Gordon: Do you minister primarily to Catholics or to a more general population?
Deacon Perez: To everyone that needs to find God.
Gordon: In your opinion, what are some of the more common factors that result in reincarceration?
Deacon Perez: No jobs for the men or women coming out of prison with a record. Not everyone is willing to give them a chance.
Gordon: What have been some of the most rewarding experiences of your ministry?
Deacon Perez: To see the power of the Eucharist in a person life when they received it and know that they feel at peace.
Gordon: If you could change one thing about the US prison system, what would it be?
Deacon Perez: No cells.
Gordon: I suspect that this suggestion might surprise some of our readers. However, this concept has been a factor in the unqualified success of the Norwegian Prison System which has of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20%. The US has one of the highest: 76.6% of prisoners are re-arrested within five years.
What prompted Kolbe House to take on the responsibility of publishing your Making Choices newsletter which is written by and for inmates? How difficult is it to cover the $10,000 annual publication and mailing costs, and what can our readers do to help support this important resource?
Deacon Perez: We think that by publishing Making Choices, we allow the incarcerated to have a voice out here in the world. For our readers' they could donate funds directly to continue publishing the Making Choices and that would definitely benefit the incarcerated.
Gordon: There may be some of our readers who may not know know about the life of St Maximilian Maria Kolbe in whose honor Kolbe House was named. So here is a short documentary on his life.
Gordon: I hope that each of our readers will download a copy of Making Choices from your website and support this important part of your mission with a donation. We thank you for your commitment to our shared responsibilities to visit the imprisoned as a corporal work of mercy.