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KAIROS PRISON MINISTRY: Offering Essential Support and Crucial Spiritual Action

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the Greek word kairos as “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment.”

Kairos is also the name of a prison ministry in which St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners have been involved for over a decade. Through this ministry, three-day weekends are put on in prisons, hopefully creating the conditions for inmates to make decisive movements toward healing and new life in the Lord.


A non-sectarian ministry, Kairos has borrowed much from the format of the Catholic Cursillo movement, which provides the opportunity for people looking to go further in their Catholic faith to make a Cursillo weekend — spending time in community over three days, hearing talks, praying and participating in the Sacraments.

The Cursillo movement is intentional about not referring to these weekends as “retreats” — they are not simply a space to take time away to be more fully present to the Lord. Rather, the purpose is for individuals to come away with a renewed and life-changing commitment to the Lord through the Catholic faith.

As with Cursillo, many lives are changed during Kairos weekends.

“There’s a statistic we like to brag about — they say that if there are four inmates sitting around a table, three will end up back in jail after being released,” says Deacon Bob Devereux, who has participated in this ministry for 10 years, starting one year after he became a deacon. “But if they have all been in Kairos, only one in four will come back to jail once released.”

Weekends are held at least once a year. There are men’s and women’s weekends, corresponding to the prison, and volunteers are paired accordingly.

Deacon Bob is currently volunteering with Kairos at the Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach. There, inmates sign up for the weekend, and around 36 are usually chosen by the prison chaplain to attend, though the number may vary.

“One weekend, we had a limit of 1:1,” Deacon Bob says. “We had 20 inmates and 20 volunteers.”

The schedule of the Kairos weekend is similar to that of a Cursillo, but the content of the talks is nonsectarian Christian, rather than Catholic.

“The Catholic Cursillo has talks based on our belief system,” Deacon Bob says. “Kairos is Christ-centered but non-sectarian. One talk is about knowing oneself. The ability for inmates to forgive themselves for what they’ve done is a real key part.”

On Thursday night, the group gathers together for introductions. The weekend continues on Friday morning. Volunteers arrive at the prison at 7 a.m. and are joined by inmates at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. Typically, participants are divided into small groups at tables, with six inmates, a clergy member, and two other team members forming each small group. The weekend ends before Sunday evening.

“There are a series of talks given by members of the team, some talks by clergy members, discussions and posters,” Deacon Bob says.

“There’s a forgiveness ceremony, where they write down people they need to forgive,” he adds. “They put it on rice paper and put that in a bowl of water and it dissolves. You don’t have to do this, but they are encouraged to put themselves on that list as well — to forgive yourself.”

The impact is profound, as Deacon Bob has witnessed firsthand many times over.

“I’ve probably seen more change in the inmates than in the people outside the walls,” Deacon Bob says. “I see a tremendous amount of change in them.”

As with the Catholic Cursillo Movement, the weekend is just the beginning. After the weekend ends on Sunday, the importance of continued support and accountability is not overlooked.

“We have a follow-up and accountability,” Deacon Bob says. “We meet with the small group every week, and then once a month the groups meet together. We go through this and it’s not like it’s a great experience and then within a couple months, the effect is forgotten. This way, we keep up with our individual groups and they keep up with other groups. They explain what their faith has been like in the past week — what was the plan, did they execute it or fail?”

The weekly meetings also allow inmates to discuss how they have done in one of the three pillars of prayer (or piety), study, and Christian action.

“The real goal of Kairos is to form small Christian communities,” Deacon Bob says.

Larger group monthly gatherings include a Scripture reading done by an inmate, witness talks from both an inmate and a volunteer, and prayer and singing.

Deacon Bob recalls the witness talk he heard an inmate give when he volunteered for a Kairos weekend for the first time. The speaker was an inmate who had gone through Kairos and spoke about his faith and what Kairos did for him. He was still carrying out a life sentence in prison, with no chance of getting out. The topic of his talk was choices, and he shared that he had made a lot of bad choices while outside of prison. Now, inside prison, he doesn’t have many choices — he’s told what time to get up, what time to have breakfast, and so on. But, as he told those gathered, “I make one choice every day — to bring Christ to whoever I meet that day.”

This talk had an impact on the inmate Deacon Bob was accompanying that weekend. An imposing figure who identified as non-Christian, Deacon Bob had felt, as he observed this inmate over the course of the weekend, that the man was not getting anything out of it. But, when this witness talk was given at the end of the events on Sunday, this man leaned forward and started to pay attention.

“He had been in and out of jail almost his whole life,” Deacon Bob says. “As a youth, he and a buddy stole a Jeep. They were joy-riding and the cops chased them and he flipped the Jeep. He woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed and found out that his buddy had died. He was put in jail for vehicular homicide and had been in and out of jail from that point forward.”

But, Deacon Bob says, when this inmate heard the witness talk, “I could see the transformation in him.”

“And, when we went back to the reunions every month, someone said something about this man evangelizing all over the compound,” Deacon Bob says.

Hearing the witness talk was clearly a decisive moment in this man’s life, and it led to a lot of crucial actions to improve the lives of others. Bob notes that the three essential ways to be involved are, first, prayer — praying for the inmates and the volunteers; also monetary support if you are uncomfortable serving in a prison; and being a team member for a weekend and the continued accompaniment of participating in small and large-group gatherings.

If you would like to be involved in creating these opportunities to encounter the Lord, be set free, and start on a new path of transformed life, contact Deacon Bob Devereux at 386-793-3255.