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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Imelda Bermejo

Gordon: When were you appointed Chaplain and Coordinator Families of the Incarcerated at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles -  Office of Restorative Justice, and approximately how many people does you ministry serve?

Imelda: I became a Chaplain (Religious Service Specialist) for immigration on August 2, 2004 at San Pedro Detention Center until November 23, 2007 for the Jesuit Refuge Service National for average of 800 men and women annually. In February 11  2008, I served as the Catholic Chaplain for the Los Angeles Sheriff Miraloma ICE Detention Center in Lancaster. Where I served 1300 men annually until the center closed in November, 2012. On July 1, 2013, I became the Coordinator of the Families of the Incarcerated Office of Restorative Justice Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

At this time, our data base serves over 500 families,

Gordon: Please share with our readers information about your Victim Awareness workshops.

Imelda: The Office of Restorative Justice has three entities; Chaplains, Families, and victims. There is a coordinator for victims who works as a first responder with the  City of Los Angeles, who implemented the Parent  Academy and various other programs.

Gordon: Please share with our readers information about  your Finding the Way in Jail program

Imelda: Finding the Way in Jail is program with 23 folders. In the jail, we hold a group session with 10 to 25 inmates per session. Working through each session with   the  men or women sharing what the information is telling them. We also have correspondence with men and women in various prisons throughout the state of  California or men and women who want to continue and complete the program when they are released from the County Jails.  The men and women get two certificates. Once when they complete 10 folders and another certificates when they finish the whole program.

Gordon: What are some of the immigration challenges facing  the Archdiocese of Los Angeles?

Imelda: Education. Not all immigrants are Latinos and as Catholic we should welcome the stranger as Joseph, Mary, Jesus were welcome when they had to flee to  another country. People do not leave their countries because they want to leave but because they have to leave for many reasons.

Gordon: What Impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had upon the Prison System in California?

Imelda: Since March, I have worked from home and kept in touch with the family by telephone. The last trip to Pelican Bay was in November 2019. The Database has gone down because the families are not able to see their loved ones because the prisons of California are closed. We had over 20,000 detainees throughout the county jail of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The count has gone down as have the prisons.

I have helped families by giving them resources to help their loved ones get started when they get out. They are given names, telephone, and emails of organizations that can help them in Los Angeles. If they are not getting calls from their ones, they are giving the name and telephone of the Ombudsman that should be able to help them resolve their concerns. One family the husband passed in December and still has been able to bury him and also has the cemetery waiting.

The state prisons of California are having virtual visits but some of the detainees did not want to have the system installed because of how the future of visits. The men and women still want to physically see their families when it comes.

The men in the prison have cases of Covid-19 but at this time I have not heard of any dying. What I have been told from the families is that some have fought the virus and won. I have lost mothers to Covid-19, one who has a son at Pelican Bay and was able to see him last November 2019. The mother had her loved one in Soledad Prison and should be out this next month.

This year, I hope to meet with the families virtually. Many have a cellphone but no computer so I will continue using the telephone.

I just found out the procedure of the vaccine and she be in line to receive it by the end of February but we will still continue using masks and social distancing in the future.

Gordon: What have been some of your most rewarding experiences  in your ministry?

Imelda: As a Chaplain, making the men and women forget where they were at Christmas. In San Pedro, I would spend Christmas eve with the women, we hold first have a Communion Service and then we would have a little fun with a CD players with  English and Spanish Christmas  songs, sing and dance until I had to leave at 10 pm for count. 

In Miraloma Detention Center, I would hold different religious services. I asked permission to hold religious concerts. But the my most rewarding experience was when I had the men become actors and  performed a 30 minuet play called La Pastorela. One man with a goatee played the part of Mary. One man played the  devil and the angel. Five men played the shepherds. One man carried the  Star. They dressed as shepherds, angel, and devil with material and ponchos I was able to bring from home. The audience included the 1000 detainees and officers. One officer asked if they were professional actors. The detainees said it was   the best play they had ever seen and each thanked me. The actors said thank you for the opportunity to be an actor that brought joy and laughter to  the  other men for at least one night.

Gordon: Thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers.


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