Deacon Alfred D’Angelo waits for the tall wired gate to open before entering the facility. He turns in his license, walks through a metal detector, is patted down and is given a body alarm for his safety. He walks down a narrow hall to the chapel where dozens of men are gathered. Deacon D’Angelo is bringing the Holy Eucharist to the incarcerated at the Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach as he does every week. This is one ministry he thought would be the most uncomfortable.
“Growing up in the inner city, Philadelphia, I knew people who went to jail and I was afraid of it. In my medical field, I had doctor friends who had practices but were also part-time prison doctors, and I thought, ‘Man, are they nuts! What kind of satisfaction would you ever have going to a prison, it has to be unnerving,’” said Deacon D’Angelo of St. Brendan Parish in Ormond Beach.
When Deacon D’Angelo visited a prison for the first time before becoming a deacon, he completely felt the need from the men in prison and had the eagerness to return and serve.
“Those who participate in the ministries of the sick or homeless, I think we get so much out of comforting the incarcerated. It’s the ability to see the face of Jesus through whomever you minister to and regardless of what crimes they’ve committed,” said Deacon D’Angelo. “This is what Jesus wants us to do; to feed the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned.”
Parishioners of St. Brendan Parish are not the only ones participating in the prison ministry with Deacon D’Angelo. St. Peter Parish in Deland and Our Lady of Hope Parish in Port Orange are also involved. More than ten men bring the message of mercy and hope to those who often seek forgiveness after their crime.
“If you just listen and understand the pain they are going through; although what they did is sinful, there’s no doubt that most of them are very sorry for what they have done and do not forgive themselves,” said Deacon D’Angelo.
Deacon D’Angelo says there are approximately 80 inmates at the Tomoka Correctional Institution who have committed themselves to weekly communal services and prayer. The prison ministry aids the incarcerated from the risk of completely losing their dignity.
“Life in prison has to be tough because of all the men who are in there, but due to the loss of privacy and the right to control your life those inmates often suffer from the loss of dignity and hope,” said Deacon D’Angelo. “However, they take advantage of our ministry’s purpose. I think for these men to know someone cares enough to even come and visit is something that gives them their dignity back.”
For Deacon D’Angelo these experiences affect him spiritually, but in a positive way. He finds time in his daily prayers to pray for the peace, sanity and salvation of the incarcerated.
“It is not easy talking and getting to know a 20-something-year-old who will spend his entire life behind bars, so I pray,” said Deacon D’Angelo. “God knows that if they are truly sorry and they made their Act of Contrition they can change their lives and merit the rewards of Heaven. Our walk here is a walk to eternal life.”
Pope Francis invites all Christians to partake in Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy. By offering a hand of compassion to those who are incarcerated, Deacon D’Angelo believes this ministry acknowledges that their lives will always matter.
“Their lives still mean something, they are still people. Knowing we are participating in a Corporal Work of Mercy, and just seeing the happiness and joy on the men’s faces when we walk in; this ministry is no longer uncomfortable,” said Deacon D’Angelo.