Contemplative Prayer in Prison?

In January of 2014 I started volunteering with Joseph Byrd at the EC Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, MI. Joseph led us in a two year practicum in spiritual direction. I had already finished my direction certification at the Dominican Center, but I wanted to learn how train and coach other spiritual directors. That's one reason I'm in a doctoral program at Fuller. Following Joseph into the prison seemed like a great way to 'cut my teeth' training directors.

After the initial two years, Joseph wasn't free to continue the same time commitment, and I discovered a deep love for the men in the prison. I have been deeply glad to continue meeting with about 10 men on the second and fourth Saturdays each month. We have been reading slowly through the classic mystical text The Cloud of Unkowing while practicing spiritual direction with each other. I told the men that my reasons for selecting this book are selfish, that I can't find anyone else who will read The Cloud with me. 

Of course time with these men is changing me. They are a group of some of the best people I have ever known. So frank. So raw. No patience for pretense and fluff. So willing. So hungry for God and love. Being with these friends is easily the best thing I have ever done in my life. I'm having so much fun. I want to do this for the rest of my life.

So I am discerning how to create a non-profit to support both the podcast and the prison outreach in a way that can engage the local church. Jesus is especially close to the broken, poor, marginalized, and the forgotten. American christians shouldn't miss out on the goodness of Jesus revealed through the lives of these murderers, sex-offenders, drug dealers and addicts. They are wonderfully open to God in staggering levels of vulnerability.

What if someday the Michigan Department of Corrections might let me take microphones in so the prisoners can write and record audio retreats like what I am compiling here? What if seminarians, pastors, and lay leaders came into the prison with me and Joseph to learn contemplative prayer?

If you are interested in staying in the loop about the developments of these things between the podcast, prison and parish, please add yourself to this core support team mailing list.


Here are a few podcasts you can listen to and learn more. 

Conversation #1 Joseph Byrd OLF no. 5 /November 2, 2016

This is the first conversation I did with Joseph. We talk about our friends in the prison some here.

Renovaré Podcast Episode 84 - Spiritual Direction in Prison // Joshua Banner

In this episode of the Renovaré podcast, Nathan Foster graciously draws out much of the scope of what we are up to in the prison.

Here are a few items for your learning curve that have inspired me:

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New Jim Crow.jpg
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When I think of systems of oppression historically and in this country, they’re durable. They tend to reinvent themselves, and they do it right under your nose.
— Glenn E. Martin
The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.
— Michelle Alexander
It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.
— James Baldwin