Taiwan Jail Ministry

Saddleback Church has an excellent church counseling program and offered training for the members who wants to be church counselors. My wife, Betty and I attended the 30-week long counseling class and received the certificates in 2008. We have not pursued afterwards to actually practice counseling because of time requirement and uncertain of our abilities.

My NTU classmate, Dr. Tu encouraged me to involve in the counseling programs whenever I visit Taiwan and got me connected with Sulian Chen, the secretary general of an association actively operating a jail ministry (中華民國矯正機關收容人關懷協會). Though jail ministry is not my original intent in counseling, I was attracted by the enthusiasm, the professionalism and the Christian love radiated from Sulian. Consequently, I worked with Sulian in jail ministry for three weeks, two whole days per week mainly in Yunlin jail.

Sulian Chen visited Guogou Center on June 10 and gave a presentation of her association’s jail ministry. After her presentation, we continued discussion on the ministry and my desire in counseling. She gave me a short tutoring in inmate counseling which is a condensed version of her more than 20 years experience. Then she invited me to go with her to Yunlin jail the following Monday (6/14). Sulian and her husband lived in Lu-Tsou about 20 minutes driving distance east of Guogou. She came to pick me up at the Guogou center and drove north, over one hour along state highway and winding country roads to the jail. She introduced me to the jail warden, Dr. Chang and his assistant Mr. Shen, the teaching department head. Dr. Chang talked about his vision on jail ministry and asked me about the jail Chaplain program in United States which I am not familiar with but I promised to find out when I get back to the States.

The jail ministry involved one-to-one counseling for jail inmates. Generally, I counseled three inmates in the morning and three in the afternoon. Sometimes, I allowed for one more. I spent 30 minutes to one hour with each inmates. The counseling started with drawing the family tree and talked about inmate’s early family life and schools to find out any abnormal life styles and/or histories. The conversations than turned to their working experience, social activities and married life if they were married. During the candid conversations, most of them started talking about how they got into their crimes. Here, the listening skills in my counselor training helped. Most of their crime is drug abuse or drug selling. A few with human trafficking and child-abuse. Some with violent crimes including man-slaughter, battery, gun possession or robbery.

Most of them had sad family histories with broken families, divorces, parental abuses and/or tragic events involving death of family members. They got their drug habits mainly through social circles. Some got into the crimes through joining the street gangs. The hurts in their earlier life and the lack of stable jobs are the main causes of their problems. I cut-into the conversations at different points depending upon the situations and provided guidance and counseling on how to cope with their jail life and re-education as well as set plans after their release from the jail. Most of them plan to return to their families as the families are their main supports. Here, I am thinking that counseling to their families is as important as counseling to them. However, there will be ethical, legal and technical problems involved.

Some of them are either searching for spiritual guidance and/or new directions of their life. A few of them had been counseled by religious groups before and would like to continue receiving the counseling. Sulian and her association are actively applying for licence to offer Bible reading class to those inmates who are interested in it.

Though most of the inmates I counseled are confident that they can receive supports from their families, there is always a possibility that some of them won’t be able to get the supports. For those without family supports, they may go to the halfway houses after their release for a while and continue to receive counseling and support. Sulian and her association are raising funds for halfway houses.

Continue counseling to those inmates are essential for their transformation in life. With this in mind, Sulain and her association are applying for permission in using letter correspondence to continue counseling to the inmates.

For each inmate received counseling, a separate file was kept with their brief personal data and the counseling records. The files were reviewed by the jail officers and stored inside the jail. During the lunch breaks and in the trips, I discussed some cases with Sulian and received her insights on each case. At nights, I reviewed some cases with my Christian Counseling book and the Saddleback’s Church Counseling Binder.

Besides Yunlin jail, we visited a Tainan jail that Sulian taught “life education” class to about 500 inmates. Sulian introduced me to the class and we performed two songs with my violin and her brilliant concert pianist style accompaniment, all without music notes.

Besides one-to-one counseling to the inmates, Sulian also teaches “life education” classes, “singing” classes and “GO-game” classes to help the inmate in their life transformation. The singing class is an example of music therapy, another subject that I am interested in. The “GO-game” is an example of art therapy which helps the inmates in developing independent thinking, building will to live purposely and looking for “big pictures”. I loved “GO” game in my youth and I had bought a few good books in Taiwan for my study.

The three weeks counselling experience built my confidence and my desire to continue in the jail ministry. Indeed, I will return to Taiwan in late September and continue my jail ministry. In addition, the choir of Evangelical Formosan Church at Irvine (EFCI) is planning to visit close to 20 Taiwan jails this October for two weeks. I will join them in the visit.

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