Red Wing deacon helps inmates send Christmas greetings

| Melenie Soucheray | December 21, 2017 | 0 Comments

Kenneth Linsy smiles for the camera Dec. 13 at the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center in Red Wing. Deacon Pat Evans of St. Joseph in Red Wing takes annual Christmas photos of inmates, such as Linsy, so they can send them to family and friends. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Every December since 2004, Deacon Pat Evans has set up his personal photography gear, a backdrop and a decorated tree in the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center in Red Wing to take individual portraits of inmates to send to friends and family as Christmas gifts.

The 170-bed facility for men and women is situated a couple of blocks from the parish of St. Joseph, where Deacon Evans serves.

Cody Rieck, a 21-year-old inmate, has participated in the Christmas photo program before and called it “heartwarming.” He said it makes him happy to be able to do something nice for his friends and family. Rieck has heard other inmates say they appreciate the program, too.

“The support helps a lot,” he said. “It’s nice to know [people] care about little things.”

Deacon Evans shows Kenneth Linsy photos he took of him. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Janet Adams, the jail’s program coordinator, pays attention to the “little things” that make the Christmas photo shoot extra special. Each year for the shoot, she partners with the local Salvation Army to borrow photo-worthy clothes in a variety of sizes.

“[Inmates] can choose what they would like to wear in the picture. That way, they are not wearing their blue jail uniform or a T-shirt or something like that,” she said.

Adams noted that the majority of the men and women who are incarcerated are fighting drug or alcohol addictions.

Doug Wilkins does some final adjustments to his clothing before Deacon Evans takes his picture. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“When you are dealing with those kinds of issues, your health deteriorates because you usually become homeless,” she said. “You burn all your bridges and relationships. You’re couch-hopping. You’re probably not taking care of yourself. You don’t have a place to sleep that’s safe. It’s a multitude of issues.”

When people are detained, she said, it may be a chance for them to become healthy.

“You have a bed, you have food to eat, and if you have mental health issues, those get addressed, [and] you get medication,” she said. “People really look good after a little bit in jail, about a month or two.”

From the photo shoot, the jail provides the inmates with two copies of the 4-by-6-inch photo. They can purchase more for a minimal cost.

Candace Koehn, detention deputy in the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office, was the jail’s activities director when the Christmas photo program started. She calls it “amazing.”

“Most inmates don’t have a lot to send [to family and friends], but this gives them something. It contributes to their outlook [on life],” she said.

History of ministry

For much of St. Joseph’s 150-year history, volunteers have served men and women confined in local criminal corrections institutions.

Father Thomas Kommers, pastor of St. Joseph for 14 years, said the parish has a “great relationship” with the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Red Wing, also known as the State Training School.

“A number of parishioners volunteered for decades, especially women who have been kind of like grandmothers to the young men living in the cottages over there,” he said. “[The parishioners] worked with the young men and baked cookies and whatnot with them as they were serving their sentences.”

About 15 years ago, Archbishop Harry Flynn decided the Church needed a larger presence in the Goodhue County jail. That’s when he tapped Deacon Evans for the job.

At the time, Deacon Evans, 65, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot, was serving at St. Pius V in Cannon Falls after being ordained a permanent deacon in 1999. He asked to be reassigned to St. Joseph to dedicate more time to the prison ministry, which he’s done full-time for about 10 years.

Evans is casual in his approach to ministering to the inmates at the jail.

“I don’t wear [a collar] over there, because I don’t want anything to separate myself from these guys,” he said. “I wear jeans, tennis shoes and a shirt. I just want to be another guy. I’ve got a wife and I’ve got kids.”

He doesn’t even want to be addressed as “Deacon.”

“Just call me ‘Pat.’ It was good enough for my folks,” he said.

Evans coordinates the activities of several St. Joseph parishioners who volunteer at the jail. Among other activities, they offer a Service of the Word for anyone who wishes to attend. They also visit with inmates and provide the Eucharist when requested. Deacon Evans offers what support he can on a one-to-one basis whenever he’s asked.

Deacon Evans tends to dismiss the role he has played in the success of the Christmas photo program. But Father Kommers is more forthcoming on behalf of Deacon Evans and his fellow volunteers.

“This is a community that’s already open to this kind of ministry,” he said.

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