By Katie Beckmann Mahon, Communications Manager
Recently, highly debated issues such as criminal justice, bail, and prison reform have been all over the media headlines.
These issues often provoke strong feelings from people who do not share the same views and tend to overshadow the individuals who are in prison, as well as former inmates who have served their time.
Sr. Dorothy Maxwell, OP has seen this first hand at her ministry as Chaplain at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, a maximum-security prison in New York State.
“People tend to forget that these inmates are human. We have all made mistakes at different levels, and these women have made very serious mistakes committing these crimes. These women are people who have committed a crime, but they are not the crime,” commented Sr. Dorothy.
As Chaplain, Sr. Dorothy feels that her role is “to give these women hope through the Church and Word of God.”
One way that Sr. Dorothy achieves this is by holding Sunday morning services at the Prison Chapel.
“It’s a great feeling to see so many women at the morning service. I feel that these services are what makes chaplaincy meaningful. I see hope in their faces. I know that they want to be here and that they are happy they are here. My goal is to have them leave each service with something that they can use to become a better person and understand God more.”
When asked about what first led her to prison ministry, she credited Sr. Mary Ann Collins, who previously ministered at Bedford Hills and now ministers as Councilor on the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Blauvelt’s Leadership Team.
Even though she never intended to pursue prison ministry in the past, Sr. Dorothy views ministry “as something that the Holy Spirit guides you to where you are meant to be.”
Sr. Dorothy’s experiences at Bedford Hills have not only developed her passion for chaplaincy, but also have challenged her to expand her views on criminal justice reform, rehabilitation, and the connection to mental health.
“We have many mentally ill people who have committed crimes because of their illness and haven’t functioned well in society. We don’t have state hospitals anymore, and there are sometimes people who end up in prison who would benefit from being there. As a society, we need to address mental health issues that people experience and get more mental health professionals.”