During the 3 1/2 day Kairos Weekend, the Inside Team Members show the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ through talks, meditations, chapel visits, music, listening and Agape love. The Kairos Prison Ministry works to develop Christian communities inside prisons. After the Weekend, small groups called Prayer and Share are held on a weekly basis among the inmates; monthly Reunions also take place with Kairos Team Members in attendance.
WHO PARTICIPATES FROM THE UNIT?
The inmates are selected by the chaplain and approved by the warden. Participants may apply to attend a weekend event, or another inmate who has been through Kairos might nominate them. Or they just may be chosen. We feel that God picks the participants for the weekend. The ladies come from all walks of life; many have sentences of 30 or more years. Others are in prison for a shorter period of time. Some participants come with a curiosity about what the program is about; others are familiar with it. Some have seen a change in the Kairos participants and want to know how it can change them. Many are initially skeptical, some may have anger issues and do not join in at first. But many are also eager to see for themselves how so many inmates can be filled with the joy of Jesus and a desire to change. Almost all inmates say YES when asked if they want to attend a Kairos Weekend. Many are praying for the opportunity.
Kairos is open to women of all faiths – or no faith. That is not a criterion for selection and it has no bearing on the objective of the mission. The unit Chaplain attempts to include both positive and negative leaders in the unit. In other words, both gang leaders and Christians are included in this retreat. There is a racial balance of one third black, one third Hispanic, and one third white.
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF THE PARTICIPANTS?
Participants are expected to attend the entire four-day program and follow the normal rules of the prison. If they choose to leave at any time during the weekend they will not be allowed to return. (This rarely occurs.) Beyond this, there are no requirements or expectations put on the participants.
WHAT TYPE OF PRISON IS Hobby?
Hobby Unit is a maximum security prison with about 2,000 inmates. The team enters through the main front gate where there is a security station. The team is searched for weapons and other contraband. Processing the team through security can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. We then are escorted by security to the administration building where ID cards and car keys are turned over for safekeeping while we are inside. We are then escorted to the unit gymnasium which will serve as both community room and chapel for the weekend. The team spends all of its time in the secured gym during the event, except when we have the opportunity to join the ladies in white for lunch in the chow hall. We spend most of our time with just the participants, but we do see and sometimes interact with other inmates..
WHAT IS THE SECURITY LIKE – IS THIS SAFE?
The Kairos program is under the supervision of the warden and her staff. There are security officers present at all times. More significantly, there is absolutely no motivation for an inmate to be disruptive and the participants themselves will not tolerate any misconduct. They are treated better during a Kairos Weekend than at any other time and are very appreciative of the Kairos volunteers. They also know that causing trouble would jeopardize the program and they do not want to lose it.
WHAT IS THE GYM LIKE?
The gym is a typical gym of standard dimensions for basketball. For the Kairos Weekend, a set-up team divides the space into three primary partitions – the community room, food preparation area, and the chapel – by grouping tables and chairs in a certain way. In the “community room” are the tables used for listening and responding to talks, making posters and sharing food. The chapel is set up at the far end, and there is a feeling of reverence when team and members and participants.
The community room has from five to seven large round tables with nine chairs each – six for participants and three for team members. On Thursday morning when the participants arrive, they learn that they are assigned to a “table family” and will participate in all activities together. Over one-half of the time is spent in the community room listening to talks given by the volunteer team, discussing the talks, and singing.
The “chapel” is a place of worship just like we have outside of the walls of a prison. It is a segmented portion of the gym, not the prison chapel. It is configured with rows of chairs for each table family and a podium and cross at the front. Several times each day the whole community moves from the community room to the chapel for meditations, prayers, and songs.
The third partitioned area is the food preparation area. The participants eat their meals in the chow hall as always, and we join them there for lunch on Thursday and Friday. But our Agape coordinators and a group of former Kairos participants known as “Angels” use the food preparation area to put together snack trays and pitchers of lemonade, water and coffee to bring to the tables. Snacks are brought out several times each day. On Saturday, the outside support team brings lunch, generally pizza and soft drinks for the table families to enjoy together before the wrap up and closing ceremony. These are eaten in the community room
The gym is not air-conditioned, but it is generally comfortable. The dates of the Kairos Weekends are chosen to not only avoid major holidays but also to avoid the hottest and coldest times of the year. It is important to wear casual and comfortable clothes, which are compliant with the dress code of the prison.
WHAT WILL WE BE DOING ON THE INSIDE?
Most of the Weekend will be spent at assigned tables, with six participants and three volunteers at each. The nine people at each table become a “table family” that will talk, listen, sing, pray, and eat together for three days. On Saturday afternoon a Closing Ceremony will be held in the gym. All of the participants, volunteer team, and visitors from the outside will be at the Closing Ceremony.
The Kairos program schedule for each day is full, well-planned, and purposeful. As members of the team we are advocates for Jesus, not advocates for the inmates. There is no time to get involved with the personal, family, or legal issues of the inmates. Whatever they want to talk about, we will listen; but our mission is to be spiritual mentors so that they will learn to rely on God.
On Wednesday evening, the team arrives and meets the participants for the first time. Each team member is assigned to a specific participant to be her greeter, help her feel welcome and comfortable, and answer questions. The initial meet-and-greet period is about 30-45 minutes during which everybody sits in a big circle in unassigned seats. After the participants begin to feel at home, each person gives a one-minute introduction of themselves.
On Thursday and Friday the volunteers present eight 20-minute talks about God and our relationship with Him. There is discussion time at the tables after each of the talks, several trips to the chapel, breaks for lunch and dinner, time for singing, and other activities that promote fellowship and trust. The primary focus of the Friday agenda is the meaning and importance of forgiveness. The day ends with a powerful forgiveness ceremony.
There are two final talks on Saturday, more chapel time, lunch, and the Closing Ceremony. By Saturday morning the participants do not resemble the people that we met on Wednesday. They have a new identity, a new community of friends, new hope, and have begun to trust again. Life now has a purpose.
HOW OFTEN DOES KAIROS HAPPEN?
Kairos Weekends are conducted twice each year, once in the spring and once in the fall. We also meet monthly in the prison for a reunion. All inmates that have participated in a Kairos Weekend are invited to attend the reunions. The reunions usually include music, testimonies or messages, and prayer-and-share time. They are led by the inmates.
HOW IS THIS ACCOMPLISHED?
Several weeks of team formation occurs prior to going inside the prison. Team formation involves recruiting, assigning roles to each volunteer, training, and promoting unity in the Spirit. The team that goes inside the prison is supported by the Outside Team that works at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Marlin preparing meals for the team and snacks for participants, organizing agape materials (prayer chains, place mats, letters) and other supplies, and prayer support. Organizing and planning a Kairos Weekend is a big job but it is done with joy. We become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ delivering His message of love and forgiveness.
WHAT COSTS ARE INVOLVED?
A typical weekend costs anywhere from $7500 to $12000. Motel rooms are needed for several nights as the team comes from all across central and Southeast Texas. We ask team members (if possible) to raise $175 from friends, family, acquaintances, and personal donations to offset the cost of the program. However, no volunteer should feel an obligation to give. Business sponsors are also solicited. It is through the Ministry’s foundation of prayer that God provides all of the resources needed for each Kairos Weekend.