Project RETURN Newsletter, Winter 2012
by Kathleen Congleton
Q: Linda, how did you get involved in a ministry to women in prison?
A: It was one of those situations where God told me to do something like "go visit the jail" and I ignored Him. Then he used a friend to tell me the same thing and I thought He was probably joking. I said, "Who me? No way! You've go the wrong person, God. I don't even like those people. They're thieves and murderers."
But I went anyway because I knew Jonah and a few others didn't have much luck running away from their assignments. For a couple of years, He let me work at a distance, writing the jail newsletter. Then one day, He plunked me down, right in the middle of a women's Bible Study group in Block 12. When the doors locked behind us, I figured He meant business.
Q: How did you know that God was blessing your next journey of writing your book, "The Women of Block 12", which told your story and those of numerous other women?
A: Funny how things work out when you do it God's way. On my very first visit to Block 12, He changed my heart. I believe those who minister in jail or prison walk on 'Holy Gournd.' I aways thought I should take my shoes off, but they don't allow that.
Anyway, I was completely at home with the women and I felt God's presence in that room. There was an immediate connection, and that never changed in the ten years I worked with them. Hundereds of women shared their most personal and intimate thoughts with me.
I came to believe God called me to tell their stories, to give them a voice. I wrote the book to help others understand these are women - mothers, daughters, granddaughters - who have the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us, and they are longing for a relationship with their Creator.
I want people to understand the circumstances that contribute to the poor choices offenders make and, more importantly, to explore the possibilities of how we can all help them return to our communities and make better decisions.
Q: You have finished the book and have surrounded yourself with women who have been released from prison. What are you doing now?
A: I visit church groups and other organizations (anyone who will listen) to talk about the needs of offenders and how we can help them. Every Friday evening, we have a women's aftercare programs that meets at the St. Vincent DePaul Store in Waukesha. The women named it Joyful Souls. The purpose is to provide learning opportunities and helathy friendships for women coming out of prison. We have an equal number of clients and mentors, but we're never quite sure who gets the most out of the group.