Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Hiatus

I have not posted here in a while, and it may be a long while before I post here again, if ever. It is not that I somehow have despaired of the blogosphere or something like that. It is simply that my own situation has changed, and there are certain restrictions that I now choose to work under. What it comes down to is that I have a new job -- in fact, a new profession -- and I am making changes as a result.

What happened? As of May 21, I am the new director of detention ministry for the Diocese of Fresno. I've held off discussing it for a while; at first it was because the process of filling that position was still in progress and therefore some confidentiality was involved. Since then, I have been waaaay too busy, and wanted to get a feel for the job. Now that things are public, I have made the decision to back off from blogging, for some specific reasons.

Before I explain further, a few notes on the job itself. The Diocese of Fresno is the community of Roman Catholics in eight California counties (Mariposa, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, and Inyo). We are a large diocese in area with some rapidly growing urban areas in Fresno, Bakersfield, and to my shock, Merced. There are many contrasts -- for example this area is best known as possibly the most productive agricultural area on earth, as well as being the home of the United Farm Workers. This area is generally more conservative politically, with more of an emphasis on church and family than other areas of California -- but that is a relative thing.

This area is also home to more prisons, jail, work or boot camps, and prisoners that any other Catholic diocese in North America, and perhaps the world. Depending on how you count them, there are about 65 different detention facilities in the 8 counties, holding about 80,000 inmates. This ranges from overnight lockups, juvenile boot camps, and privately run minimum security facilities to Corcoran State Prison which holds Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan (among many others) and the condemmned unit at Central California Women's Facility near Chowchilla.

Why here? The southern end of the San Joaquin Valley is one of the "sweet spots" for prison construction (along with the Susanville and "Inland Empire" areas) with the combination of large parcels of available land (a prison takes more than a square mile of land, in one piece) with and local governments eager for economic development. In some parts of California, people fight to keep prisons from being built. Out here, cities fight to get them. This state began a big push for new prisons in the 1980's, and the current situation is the result. There are more facilities on the way.

My job? I support the professional chaplains at the bigger facilities, and the parish teams of volunteers that handle other facilities, and work with the prison chaplains. This is where the real ministry is done -- my work is to make it possible for these servants of God to do what they are called to.

One thing that does not appear on the Office of Ministries web page, but is on my formal job description, is that work to see that detention ministry policy set by the bishop of Fresno is followed. I have had policy jobs before, and one reality is that some people find it hard to make a distinction between your opinions and the policies you support, especially when public statements are involved. And there are few things quite so subversively public as a blog. Also, the amount of confidential information involved is challenging. We need to protect people's privacy, whether in or outside of prison, and there are questions of personal security involved.

Of course, it does not help that I am very busy now. This hiatus is not something that the diocese asked for, I think it is the responsible thing to do, under the circumstances. I do have some thanks to post a bit later, and that will be it for a while.