Couple shares faith with prison inmates
By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph
In this busy world, where people are pulled in many directions from work to family, married couples often set aside at least one time each week to be with each other.
They share the ups and downs of their lives and enjoy each other’s company. Many do something they both enjoy — movies, sports, dining.
Unlike most, however, Pat Webb and her husband, Mike Neverman, spend that time in jail.
They are involved in prison ministry at the Lebanon and Warren Correctional Institutions in Warren County, where they share the Catholic faith with everyone from “lifers” to men awaiting parole.
“We feel this was definitely a call; something we enjoy together as a couple,” said Webb, who works in human resources and health and safety management for an aluminum recycling company. The couple belongs to St. Thomas More Parish, Withamsville. They live in Batavia.
“We think it is important to these men that we spend time with them. It’s hard to explain, but we just have an acceptance of these broken lives. I thought I’d be afraid, quite honestly; but it wasn’t fearful there. There was something natural and comfortable and now the two of us know this is something we are going to keep doing. It is going to be part of our lives,” Webb said.
“Specifically, we do Catholic instruction. There are a variety of programs; a variety of topics we discuss. All are geared to Catholic instruction for adults. You have to be interested in the Catholic faith. We are working with between 12 and 15 inmates in a class, one night a week.”
Neverman began working with inmates a few years ago at the River City Jail in Cincinnati’s Cumminsville neighborhood by providing a program for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
“Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (in Anderson Township) was having a Dismas meeting. Dismas was the criminal on the cross next to Christ,” said Neverman, director of sales for a protein bar company. He was introduced to Christine Shamrock who runs the chaplain program at the prisons. “We started talking. So, I started instructing at the Warren and Lebanon institutes.
“It’s amazing what you get out of it — the feelings you get out of it. There are times you can really feel the spirit working. I can’t express to you how I feel when I come home. If I’m in a bad mood, all I have to do is go over there. Oh gosh, my problems seem so much less than what these guys are going through.
“I ran a three-month program in a class about the 12 steps (of AA) and how every step ties into spirituality. We grew the class from 9 to 33 guys. The prison program (in Warren County) isn’t tied to AA… but I still go to River City on Saturday mornings and that’s AA.”
“This is not depressing. We look forward to going. Pat and I drive up together and drive back together. It’s really a neat experience and it is allows us to grow in our relationship.” Neverman said.
Webb said, “We really get to see the importance of honoring the dignity of the inmates no matter what they have done in their lives.
“You get pieces of their stories. You don’t always get the whole story. But, you can see the brokenness in their lives and how they got to where they are. You can see they are involved in a brotherhood and there is love that they have for one another. It’s present there — in a place where you don’t expect it. You don’t expect to see them caring for one another and showing each other love and learning to live a life of Christ even though they are incarcerated.” she said.
“Some come to the program quite frankly because it looks good to the parole board. It looks good to shortening their sentences or getting them into a place where they have more privileges. There are all kinds of reasons why they come. I think the lifers come because it gets them out of their cell and it gets them in community with others and it goes back to the brotherhood. I also think some of them really do have a conversion moment while there. They look for hope and I think this group gives them hope. It’s an incredible ministry and I’m really into it,” said Webb who spent 25 years in healthcare and holds a nursing degree from Northern Michigan University.
“For me, one of the things that has been difficult along this journey in ministry is remaining humble. It is so important to us. We cannot point a lot of attention to ourselves. Personally and spiritually we are so touched that they share with us, trust us.
“For example, when talking about forgiveness they do homework. I’m reading through their homework and I’m seeing that we are making connections. They are personalizing it. They are talking about forgiveness for family members; people who have hurt them or things they want people to forgive them for — the things they have done. You are reading these very personal, very intimate details of their lives and they are so willing and giving to share that. They appreciate the work you do. They appreciate that we come every week.
“Not every one of them, but there are some who understand the forgiveness of Christ. The more they begin to identify that, they seek forgiveness… and the biggest challenge is to forgive themselves for what they’ve done. And, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re in prison or somewhere else, we all struggle with that.”
This Everyday Evangelist feature originally appeared in the June 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.