Theology teacher and her brother volunteer for prison ministry in Pendleton

Lauren Smith, Culture Page Co-Editor

In a juvenile prison in Pendleton, Indiana last March, boys ages 13 to 15 and 16 to 17 were each led in two separate one-hour Bible study sessions led by theology teacher Miss Katie Klee and her brother, Mr. Danny Klee, who teaches theology at Christ the King.

Miss Klee said, “Sant’Egidio is an international prayer community that focuses on prayer for an outreach to the poor. My brother and I started a chapter of this prayer group in the fall of 2014 at our church (St. Joan of Arc) that meets every Wednesday.”

Miss Klee said every group has its own outreach, and she and her brother individually prayed for months trying to discover what their outreach would be.

Beginning their outreach

Miss Klee said, “One day I just went to my brother and said, ‘This sounds crazy but I’ve just been feeling like prison is where we’re supposed to go,’ and he said, ‘No way, that’s what I’ve been thinking about too.’”

Neither of them had ever been to a prison before. Miss Klee said it wasn’t a specific experience or person that prompted her to choose this outreach; it was her prayer life.

Miss Klee said, “There’s all these stereotypes of what people in prison would be like from TV shows or movies and you worry about all the what-ifs, but we had met with this guy whose name is Ron at the front gate who has gone twice a week for the past 11 years. His presence alone gave us a security that everything was going to be fine.”

First prison ministry experience 

As they walked in the prison, Miss Klee said there was a lot of security protocol. She likened it to going through an airport.

Miss Klee said, “As we approached the boys for the first time, they all came up to the window as we were walking to get into the room, and they stared with their hands on the window because they don’t get outside very often; they’re just with each other.”

Miss Klee continued, “That filled me with curiosity about what they thought about us. As soon as we sat down with them for their first Bible study, they were just so happy, and they wanted to know every detail about our lives. They verbally were showing their gratitude. Even though I was anxious about going, as soon as I was there with them, my brother and I both knew that we felt that this is exactly why we were called to be here.”

During their visit, volunteers would read a Bible passage and ask the boys to respond with any thoughts that come to their minds when hearing the Gospel.

Miss Klee thought this was different as she said, “In class I’ll ask a question, and it’ll be like crickets waiting for people to respond, but these boys are so anxious to respond and think about this stuff they’re almost yelling over each other. They all have something to say about it. It just really astounded me that they were so in touch with their faith. Their faith was richer than most teenagers I’ve met.”

Mr. Klee said, “When we started talking about Scripture, they were so honest about the conditions in their own lives and used the reflections to talk about ways they can turn around attitudes and behaviors that they see in themselves and their family structures. It was really humbling to hear them speak so openly.”

Miss Klee and her brother started their outreach by going to a juvenile prison, but they hope to go to a men and women’s adult prison in the future.

Takeaways from the Bible studies

Miss Klee said, “(From this experience) my hope was to get out of my own bubble and meet people who have a different story from mine. I wanted to try to understand why it was that God called us to go there, and I think I’m still trying to figure that out because we’ve only been a few times. Things I have gotten from (the experience) are just a sense of gratitude about the freedom that I have and just realizing how precious and important your decisions are because they can free you or they can confine you.”

Klee and her brother had the privilege to be on a task force that Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin assembled and dedicated a lot of his time to in the last year to see how the archdiocese of Indianapolis can improve this outreach.

“It gives me a lot of hope, and it’s very reassuring to know that he is donating a lot of his time to meeting the needs of the people who are imprisoned,” said Miss Klee.

Miss Klee said that she wants Cathedral students to focus on the power of their decisions, allowing the good ones to grant them opportunities.

Mr. Klee said, “I think especially with all the devices and demands for our time,  students should know how important it is to be fully present with hpeople. These kids helped remind me how important that is to developing positive relationships.”

The boys in prison

Miss Klee said, “It seems like a lot of these boys (in prison) were, in a way, set up for failure because you can tell a lot of them are brought up surrounded by drugs or alcohol or different disturbing ways of using the internet. Because that’s all they knew growing up, they find themselves engaging in that stuff. (Students should know) gratitude for the ways we’ve been brought up and ways that help us honor success, strong faith and good relationships.”

Mr. Klee hopes the boys in prison “continue to seek God and dream big.” He and his sister both have hope them.

Miss Klee said, “(For the boys) I don’t get a sense at the prison that it’s a very Christian atmosphere in their day-to-day life, so this is their only chance to engage their faith in a week’s time. I think it’s an opportunity for them to ask questions about their faith and being a Christian, and it’s just a chance for them to understand God’s plan for them.”

She concluded, “Their faith has transformed the way they look at their decisions and seeing how powerful it can change their life. It seems they all have a hope to change for the better and to think about their faith more for once they leave.”