To learn more about REC, head to www.recrcda.org.
To learn more about REC, head to www.recrcda.org.

Would you consider the pandemic a little like living in a prison? 

Did the isolation — the inability to celebrate Mass or the sacraments in person — lead you to forge a new faith experience? Think about what faith life is like for an inmate and consider what a prison ministry could mean to both of your faith journeys.

“You will experience something that will soften your heart,” said John Razzano, a volunteer with Residents Encounter Christ (REC), a prison ministry program offered by the Diocese of Albany.

“The experience will bring you closer to your own faith and show you the humanity of the people who are in prison. We often tell the inmates that we get more out of REC than they do, as we come together to pray and share our faith in deep and meaningful ways.”

The idea of entering a prison to spend time with groups of inmates might initially feel “a little nerve-racking,” Razzano admits. But the inmates are respectful and grateful to the team of volunteers (numbering between 10-to-20) and nervousness soon dissipates. Volunteers are supported by deacons and priests who join them to offer Mass and Reconciliation during the retreat.

Razzano described how volunteers present talks on themes relevant to each day of the retreat, and conduct discussions with small groups of inmates.
Volunteer musicians and singers also enrich the retreat with music.

Inmates “witness to” how the love of Christ has changed them. Expect to see tears as you watch an inmate talk about letting Christ into his heart for the first time. In lighthearted moments, you will share smiles and laughter. “The inmates can’t get over how we give up three days of our lives to be with them,” said Razzano, a member of Our Lady of Assumption in Latham.

Volunteers meet several times in advance of the retreats to practice their talks and prepare themselves spiritually for the outreach effort.  A few hours of training are also required by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to acquaint volunteers with appropriate policies and procedures.
“We believe it’s about just showing up and caring about the men in green,” said Judith Riescher, who along with her husband, Tom, is an REC volunteer.

“While volunteering at the Hudson Correctional Facility, Tom and I led a fatherhood class,” said Judith Riescher, a parishioner of the Church of St. Patrick in Ravena.  “When asked why they came to class, the men would say they want to be a better father than their father was to them. A lot of men in prison had no father figure in their life.

“REC has changed the lives of so many men and it has changed my life, too. If you decide to volunteer, it will change your life, too!”

Greg Stasik, chair of the REC Council, hopes volunteers will be allowed to re-enter the prisons in time for the REC programs scheduled for September and October.

“We miss the fraternity that we share with our prison brothers. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, our teams are preparing for the retreats we hope to organize for later in the year,” Stasik said.

Volunteers recently updated the REC website in lieu of traditional recruiting at Masses, as parishes have been on pause during the pandemic. “This was a good time to devote to our website, our database, and strengthening the council,” said   Erika Choi, past chair, who started the website redesign in the fall of 2020.

To learn more about REC, head to www.recrcda.org.

Thomas Schwendler is an Ignatian Volunteer Corp volunteer for the Residents Encounter Christ (REC) prison ministry program of the Diocese of Albany.