A Ministry of Presence to Women in Prison

Terry Franzen

Church of the Holy Family | Jasper

The barred, metal door slams shut with a finality devastatingly permanent. The young woman sinks down into a small ball. Condemned to life for past actions, she becomes increasingly withdrawn and hopeless. What do you do?

At Church of the Holy Family in Jasper, Ga., that scenario is familiar. The answer is routine: You join Terry Franzen and others who visit the Lee Arrendale State Prison, which houses almost 1,500 female incarcerated people, located 65 miles east.

They believe that no one should be forgotten by society, and forgiveness is part of their powerful message.

“What you did, what you were convicted of, does not define you,” Franzen recalled saying to those she visited. “ You’re really a bigger person than that, and that’s what God knows, and God forgives. But you have to work on forgiving yourself, and that’s really hard.”

A retired attorney, Franzen has invested several years in a “ministry of presence” with the incarcerated people. “Many people get nothing,” she said. “They get no letters, they get no phone calls. They have no money. For them to know that they’re remembered and that people think about them and pray for them is really, really important.”

She also has witnessed their resilience. “That has deepened my faith, to see the faith of these women, particularly those who are lifers,” she said. “They have been in prison a long time and they’re going to be there a really long time still.”

The young woman described in the opening scene “now has found joy,” the Holy Family outreach committee reported. “She has learned to play several instruments and participates joyfully in music programs within the prison, even to the traveling choir… Her life, while still confined, has turned 180 degrees.” Franzen continues to visit and encourage her.

“The new thing that I’m doing with God is trying to help the women that I work with learn to walk with God every day,” she said. “I’m being there with them and truly listening to what they want to say. It takes a really long time for someone in prison to trust you, and some of the women there trust me enough to tell me things they wouldn’t tell other people. It’s really important to be able to have that, to have someone that they feel like they can trust.”