Prayers for Prisoners
By France Griggs Sloat
At 6:30 a.m. on a Friday in April, Virginia Hewan pulls up to the gate of the Dayton Correctional Institute with about 30 members of a prison ministry group. It’s time for their security screening. Then come three days of programming during which they gather with about 20 incarcerated young women for home-cooked meals, singing and dancing, praying, Bible readings, testimonials and storytelling skits.
“Our goal is to let the women know that people care, and they are loved,” says Hewan. “Even if they’re at the lowest they’ve ever been, they’re not alone.”
Hewan is a volunteer with Epiphany Ministries of Ohio, a Christian ministry that sponsors three-day ecumenical programs for men and women serving time in Ohio’s prisons. Twice a year, Hewan heads from her home in Northern Kentucky for a long weekend away, delivering messages of hope to women who are serving time. The overriding themes of love and forgiveness are intended to help the women realize they can change their lives. Lessons on Christian living show how to do that and reinforce the idea of how much they are loved.
Hewan has been Xavier’s director for certification and licensure in the School of Education since 1991. She began as a secretary in the graduate programs office in 1984, earning four degrees along the way, including a master’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in education with a concentration in agency and community counseling. Internships for both degrees gave her experience working with women coming out of prison, with delinquent teenage boys and as an advocate for parents of murdered children.
About seven years ago, the pastor of her church, Northern Hills United Methodist Church in the suburb of Finneytown, learned of the Epiphany prison ministry program. Hewan, wanting to put her pastoral counseling knowledge to use, signed up. She now spends one or two weekends a year at a pre-release center for women formerly in Columbus, Ohio. The last trip in April was to the new location in Dayton.
After three days of eight to 10-hour sessions, each woman is given her own Bible. Monthly follow-up visits reinforce the experience with music, song and prayer. Hewan says she’s always moved by the women, who she says are no different from the young college students she sees every day at Xavier.
“Often their faces remind me of our students,” she says. “We want to bring them hope so they will be able to face life’s challenges inside or outside the prison walls.”