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Marguerite, What Am I Doing Here?

Mildred Chabassol, CND

When I moved from 12 years of parish ministry in Newfoundland to Kingston, my thoughts were on what shall I do now? As I explored the city the word that was always on my mind was “Periphery.” One afternoon my attention was drawn to a very large campus with beautiful grounds, a striking array of buildings, topped with a majestic red dome. It all reminded me of Disneyland. I concluded that it was a Theme Park. I awaited its opening, only to be informed it was one of the five prisons within the city. That was a shock, yet gradually the realization came... here lies the periphery for me.

Soon everything quickly fell into place. After all the paper work, interviews and the preparation courses, I was at the doors of Joyceville Institution, overcome with fear. I asked “Marguerite, what am I doing here?” The response came when a flood of deep peace and a thrust of energy entered me. This gift is with me every time I enter one of the prisons I serve. Now I am never afraid. I am graced to work with a mixed denominational team of seven, serving men who are in the “high medium” area of the enclosures. One prison receives and processes all the men from the province of Ontario as well as other areas of Canada. From here they are evaluated and sent out to where they will serve their time. The other two prisons house men who will be serving their extended sentence, several years to life.

Needless to say this has been one of the most challenging ministries in my 58 years. Each time I meet with these men I come away enriched, graced, enlightened and awed as I sense the richness of Christ walking in their midst. I see his face in every man I meet. Being with them stretches me, gives me hope, and fills me with gratitude.

They come from various backgrounds and professions. They admit they have done something wrong, and accept their sentence. Most of them desire to use their time wisely taking programs that will help them face their problem, so they can return to society being a better person.

I am able to do religious services with them, counsel and suggest when necessary, and give them an accepting and supportive ear. Sometimes I am amazed at how easily they tell me their stories. Those who accompany me to the prisons are likely the only people from outside they will meet for a long time. The men are so grateful we are there, and welcome us with smiles and handshakes that warm any heart.

I am happy the Theme Park was not a reality. I am graced to enter their space, and to be a presence to all who are now such a large part of my life and my prayer.


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