by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you join Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church and why would recommend Our Lady of the Assumption to those who might ask you to recommend a parish to them?
Kevin: I attended Mass at OLA when I was a student at nearby Oglethorpe University in the mid-1970s, I moved to Decatur when I went to law school and became a member of the Saint Thomas More Parish. I moved back to the Brookhaven area 30 years ago and formally joined the Our Lady of the Assumption then.
OLA is a wonderful and diverse community of caring and committed Christians. It has a large and active Saint Vincent DePaul Society. It is a primary sponsor of an interfaith shelter for homeless families. It enjoys a rich liturgical tradition and a dedication to pastoral care.
Gordon: In what aspect of law do you specialize at DeLong, Caldwell, Bridgers, Fitzpatrick, & Benjamin, L.L.C. ?
Kevin: We represent large groups of working men and women and individuals against their employers in minimum wage, overtime, family and medical leave, sexual harassment, and discrimination cases.
Gordon: When and why did you join Assumption Catholic Church’s Kairos Prison Ministry, and could you comment on some of the prison challenges that you and your colleagues may have addressed?
Kevin: For the past dozen years, I have been trying to grow in spirituality. (I still have vast room for improvement). This effort has included annual silent Ignatius retreats, taking ten theology classes from Spring Hill College, attending monthly prayer breakfasts with other Catholic lawyers, serving as a reader at Mass, and directing my law practice to serve the hard working salt of the earth.
While representing a group of dump truck drivers in a wage an hour case several years ago, the mediator pulled me aside and suggested that I might look at the Kairos Prison Ministry. He followed up months later over cocktails at the Lawyers’ Club. As I learned more about Kairos, I could feel the Holy Spirit urging me forward.
I gradually became part of the ecumenical Christian Kairos Team at Hancock State Prison. Hancock is a maximum security prison for men, located about 120 miles from Atlanta.
Last year, I was asked to take a leadership role. I served as the Weekend Leader for Kairos # 46 at Hancock last May. I am now the Recruitment Coordinator for the team.
As I expanded my role in Kairos, I brought the ministry to OLA. OLA has embraced it. Four other members of the Parish, including a Priest and a Deacon have joined the Kairos team at HSP. When we brought Father Grissom to Hancock last May, it was the first time a Catholic priest had been in the prison in seven years.
Many other members of the parish support the team by baking thousands of cookies, (we endeavor to give a bag of six homemade cookies to all prisoners and staff during a Kairos Weekend, a representation of God’s love, which falls on us all like the rain) writing agape letters (after five years of incarceration 95% of prisoners in a maximum security prison have no contact with anyone outside the prison) and participating in a prayer vigil during the Weekend.
Kairos is a both a time commitment and an acquired taste. Team formation meetings, a four-day weekend and monthly reunion visits demand lifestyle adjustments. Experiencing a prison gate slam behind one is an experience few forget.
We ask the prison chaplain to bring us the leaders among the inmate population, both the positive and negative leaders. Our inmate participants often include heavily tattooed gang leaders and inmates recently sprung from solitary confinement. Some need more time than others to contemplate the possibilities of a Christian life.
When you are guests in a warden’s house, you discover that prisons are all about “the count.” We can be in the middle of a quiet spiritual moment with 42 inmates when correctional officials suddenly move all the inmates against the wall to count and recount them.
Kairos is a ministry without expectations. We are not a salvation ministry; that is the Holy Spirit’s job. We know that the old self is slow to die. We are there to show Christian love to the most unloved members of our society and to offer our incarcerated brothers and sisters a path out of the wilderness. We accomplish by the mantra, “listen, listen, love, love.” In participating in this ministry, I have felt the profound presence of the Lord.
Gordon: What federal and sate laws would you consider be reviewed and possibly modified to reduce the prison population in Georgia and in the United States?
Kevin: My experience, of course, is anecdotal. Many of the inmates we see at Hancock come from drug-centered dysfunctional families. The best work we can do as society is to try to save these children before they enter the criminal justice pipeline. The inmates appear to me to be darker than the general population, a reminder that the implicit biases that lie below the surface of consciousness tend to drive the inferences drawn in the criminal justice system. Beyond that, I would urge us to rethink the merits of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Gordon: Could you comment on the Catholic Bishops of the United States Responsibility, Rehabilitation, And Restoration: A Catholic Perspective On Crime And Criminal Justice ?
Kevin: As you can tell from my comments above, I have been heavily influenced by Catholic Social Teaching. As one of my old Spring Hill professors used to say, “If you are really going to be Christian, you have to embrace the radical equality of everyone.”
My theological direction is thus. Christ has given me a direct command to love others as He has loved me. Despite the clarity of the directive, I have been indifferent to someone just about every day of my life. My daily personal sin is no better than the societal sins of the inmates who we minister to.
Gordon: We appreciate taking time from your busy schedule for this great interview and helping us better understand our responsibility to love our neighbors who are imprisoned.