DREXEL HILL — The walk from the front gate of the SCI Phoenix state prison outside of Philadelphia to the chaplain’s office is exactly half a mile long. John Killeen knows it well.
He also knows the guards, the parole officers and the incarcerated people he is there to support and coach through their time in prison and their transition home.
He knows who to call in Harrisburg, the state capital, how to set up an inmate with a local telephone number and how to walk a released prisoner through each hour of the overwhelming moments of their first day out.
Rather than packaging his inside knowledge of the prison system into a sterile program — the kind with which many inmates are all too familiar — Killeen simply remains present to share when the time is right.
“There is so much need, but nobody knows what they are looking for, or if they do, they don’t know how to get it,” Killeen said of incarcerated persons and their families.
Killeen doesn’t do this work alone. He and his wife Sue have been continuing the ministry of the Mary Mother of Captives support group, now run out of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Drexel Hill for the past nine years.
The Killeens carry on the legacy of founders Jack and Sophie Weber, who in 1996 established the group to help family members survive the effects of having a loved one incarcerated.
More than a system or program, the work of the Killeens, and their parent organization the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor, is a family of families facing a crisis.
While John’s knowledge and guidance drive the transition program, Sue’s heart carries the support group because she knows what it’s like to carry the burden of seeing one’s own child behind bars as she did with their son Jaime.
“Nobody gets it,” Sue said, including “neighbors, family, pastors.” Family members feel isolated as though they are the only ones in the world going through this experience. Mothers especially feel the shame of their child’s incarceration.
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