Testimonials – Prison Ministries

Deacon James Witulski on the importance of Prison Ministries

Deacon James Witulski on the Importance of Prison Minitries

Deacon James Witulski on the importance of prison ministries. Deacon Witulski discusses how prison ministries have influenced the life of prisoners. He shows how prisoners have grown through their love for God. His volunteers give inmates the chance to talk about what they are going through and give them a chance to worship and repent.


 

The Long Way Home by Jason Brown

My journey to the Catholic faith has been a long one. It’s taken me 42 years, an international crime spree, a bestselling novel and a wildly popular video game, among other things, to get me here. After all of that, I am truly amazed at the tools the Holy Spirit implements to bring souls to salvation. Let me tell you my story:

I grew up in a tiny town just northwest of Houston, Texas. Bellville literally has one stop light. Although it’s a small place, my home town has an eclectic mix of people with many faiths represented in the population.

Just as there are many faiths in my hometown, so too are there in my family. My grandmother was a Southern Baptist who married my Catholic grandfather. My mother was raised Catholic but strayed, becoming Pentecostal. My stepfather, the only dad I’ve ever known, is a Jehovah’s Witness.

I bring up my family’s religious choices simply to say that the small amount of instruction in faith I received during childhood was pretty confusing. Because of my confusion, I rebelled. Many teenagers rebel against the Heavenly Father. I think I took it to an extreme, however. I set out to find any belief system that wasn’t Christian that I could adopt. I studied Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, and lots of paganism. None of it ever felt real to me. There just wasn’t anything there that ever touched me. The same was true all the times I visited Protestant churches.

Even during my rebellion, I was being called to the Holy Catholic Church. I wasn’t open to the Holy Spirit then so I didn’t recognize what was going on at that time. Now I look back and see that God had not given up on me despite the fact that I was trying to give up on Him.

At my grandfather’s funeral I saw the Catholics make the Sign of the Cross and thought it was a beautiful gesture. A few times I passed by Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church when people were entering or leaving the building, and I can remember thinking how dignified, how joyful, and how bright they looked. I don’t know how else to say it other than bright. The Catholics I saw seemed to glow, to shine with an inner light I’ve just never seen anywhere else.

Those things made me curious about the Catholic Church, and I asked my mom why she’d left Catholicism. Had she had an awakening? Was there something wrong with Catholicism? Why had she turned from the faith she’d been raised with?

Her answers were more confusing than enlightening. She actually missed the Church and sometimes longed to return to it. I came away from that talk with another reason to wonder about Catholics. After all, someone who had left the faith wanted to return to it – it just seemed like there had to be something in this that was really worth having.

Fast forward 15 years or so to when I was in my late twenties… I was charged with possession of a controlled substance and I did not want to go to prison. Instead, I fled the country and lived in Costa Rica for about 12 years, where I was surrounded by Catholicism.
In the center of every Costa Rican town there is a park and in front of the park is the Catholic Church. Passing all these churches, I was once again seeing people entering or exiting Mass who appeared special to me, but I still did not act on my curiosity.

Sometime during my stay in Costa Rica I read the novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. The novel’s setting is a succession war in 12thcentury England. However, the real story being told isn’t the war… it’s the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. The centerpiece of the novel is the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral, which burns down. It takes decades for the cathedral to be rebuilt, with several master builders directing the project through both triumph and tragedy.

In addition to being an excellent read, The Pillars of the Earth sparked for me an interest in church architecture. I looked up definitions for words like clerestory, nave, transepts and cloisters. Google image search returned pictures of those things to go with the definitions. Then, I went and saw them for myself. I saw the sun peeking through the line of flying buttresses that brace the roof of the cathedral in Heredia. In San Rafael, I watched light sparkle down from the clerestory windows to touch the heads of the faithful at their prayers. I looked with my own eyes at the graceful Gothic arches of the ceiling vaults of several churches. Each of these experiences moved me, and the more I saw the more I wondered if I could be a Catholic myself. Then I got into an argument.

My primary hobby at that time was the video game World of Warcraft. Players are divided up onto various servers, and players can chat with and otherwise interact with fellow gamers sharing the same server. One afternoon, I was logged onto the game but not really doing much. I was just hanging out in one of my faction’s cities and reading things being said in trade chat. Then I saw that some people were discussing “reproductive rights” and I went on a rampage.

Abortion is a hot button issue for me, and I insist on speaking up for unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. So when I saw that topic of discussion, I began arguing with the pro-abortionists. I won’t try to reproduce the conversation here, but it was me alone arguing against many, and I made my opinions very clear. After a few minutes of trading insults, as I was leaving the conversation and the area, I said “I’m out of here. Thank God I don’t have to listen to a bunch of baby killers anymore.” One of them replied, “How cute, he believes in God. I’ll bet he’s even Catholic. LOL.”

I took some time to think about that comment. It was intended as an insult but I found it complimentary. I’d been considering Catholicism, and someone who did not know me seemed to think I had what it takes to be Catholic. Sometime later, after further soul searching, I prayed and asked Jesus to help me get my life together, and to open up a way for me to join the Catholic Church, if that was in fact His will for me.

Well, it turns out that becoming Catholic was the Lord’s plan for me, and He put me exactly where I needed to be before that to happen – in jail.
I’d been supporting myself in Costa Rica through crime, and I was arrested and returned to the United States to face fraud charges. I pled guilty, and I am now waiting to be transferred to federal prison to serve my sentence.

A few months ago I met Deacon James Witulski. Deacon Witulski is a Catholic volunteer who leads the Jail Ministry for the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. When he visited the cell block where I was housed, I recognized Deacon Witulski as Catholic by his black shirt and white collar. I remembered my prayer asking for the opportunity to become Catholic, so I approached this stranger and asked for help.

Deacon Witulski and I sat and talked that April afternoon, and I related to him my story – how a novel made me interested in church buildings, how visiting the buildings made me interested in the faith, and how I decided I wanted to be Catholic. I’ll never forget Deacon Witulski’s response after hearing my account of things. He said, “It sounds like the Holy Spirit was moving in your life to lead you to become Catholic.” Those words rang true to me when I heard them.

Following that first meeting, Deacon Witulski and I met regularly. I was also provided with a teacher, Mark Myers, who instructed me in the Faith. Mark was also my sponsor on October 1, 2015 when I became a Confirmed Catholic.

I’d received baptism the previous year, but Deacon Witulski and I could not confirm if it was a valid baptism or not. After some discussion, we decided to cover all the bases – After numerous delays due to jail policy, Father Gabriel Salazar had finally been approved to enter the jail to hear my conditional general Confession, conditionally baptize me in the Catholic Faith, and I would also receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I had much angst over confessing my sins. I’d led a life that I really didn’t want to talk about, especially not with a priest. I did an examination of conscience, and when I looked back over my life, I believed I was facing a penance of epic proportions.

When the time came, I gave more of a purging rather than a confession. I dumped my sins out so fast I stumbled over my own words. Everything that was on my conscience was blurted out, and then I waited to hear what sort of penance I would do.

As I imagined having to perform Herculean labors and trembled in fear, Father Gabriel said to me, “For penance, I want you to say one Our Father and one Hail Mary before bed tonight.” My first thought was, maybe I should start over on my confession because I’m not sure Father Gabriel was listening. That is my penance?

I discussed my surprise over my penance with Deacon Witulski the next time we met. As Deacon Witulski shared with me, the true penance for my sins was paid by Jesus on the Cross, and my surprisingly small penance was an example of God’s mercy – that I was welcomed back into a state of grace because I’d asked, not because of what penance I performed. No penance I can ever carry out will compare to what Jesus did for me on Calvary.

Becoming Catholic felt like coming home to me. No other religion or faith has given me peace and hope the way that the Catholic Faith has. I really love being Catholic. I make the Sign of the Cross with pride. I pray the rosary at least once a day, likewise for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I showed my Confirmation Certificate to other inmates and related to them my sense of accomplishment. And, most important of all, I try to bring others to Catholicism. God worked hard to bring me to salvation, and that is something I want to share with as many people as possible.

I will be moving on soon to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to serve the rest of a sentence of 103 months. I will continue to walk with God through all that time and for the rest of my life afterwards. I thank all of you for accepting me as a fellow Catholic. Please keep me in your prayers, as I pray for all of you.

Jason Brown, federal inmate, wishes to thank you for taking the time to read this story.

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