Domestic Poverty

Raising awareness: Magdalene Hospitality House eases the burden for those visiting prisoners

March 1, 2012
Domestic Poverty

In 2001, members at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland, MD, received information about some of the visitors to the federal prison at Cumberland. Several of our parishioners are police officers, and they reported to us about women and children sleeping in their cars because they could not afford meals and a hotel room on the weekends they visited.

Several of us decided that we had to do something about this potentially dangerous situation. We located a property and we went to the vestry with our idea. The vestry approved the purchase of a house for the ministry, and we opened the house for visitors in December, 2004.

That was how Magdalene Hospitality House came to exist.

We had to modify the house to accomodate a total of 14 guests per weekend (Friday evening thru Sunday morning). We offer bed and breakfast for our guests.

One of the great experiences for me is the meal on Saturday evenings. We all sit down at a common table and share a meal. Nothing fancy, just good wholesome food and plenty of it.

We provide supervision for the house with volunteers. Expenses are covered by the church, private donations, and donations from our guests. They are not asked for donations, but they leave whatever amount they are able to leave. Keep in mind that some of our guests travel from all over the country to get here.

The House provides a safe haven for visitors and it allows people to visit more often. This helps the inmates keep closer ties with their wives, girlfriends, children, parents, and friends.

It helps with the collateral damage done to families with someone in prison. Our guests are able to sit down with other people who share the same issue of a loved one in prison. They start out as strangers and by the end of a weekend they are friends.

Some of our guests make arrangements to travel together and share expenses on the weekends that they visit. We do not mention our faith to our guests unless they want to know about it. We simply let our actions speak for us. We have people of many faiths and people with no faith stay with us.

Everything at Magdalene House is donated, including the furniture, and we are in need of many things.

In the beginning of this ministry I was just to be a helper, a volunteer on weekends, but my wife and I became the primary caretakers of the house and we have been doing this since 2008. It is quite a job, but when you meet the people and see the smiles on their faces when they come thru the door, you know you are doing something important. In 2009 I was ordained a deacon and I can’t think of a more diaconal ministry than this one.

In 2009 we began to offer temporary shelter to homeless women, children and men during the week (Sunday thru Friday), and at this time we are providing shelter for two women, six children, and three men. We are able to do this because our prison visitors come only on the weekends. These people are referred to us by the Department of Social Services, the Union Rescue Mission, and the Family Crisis Resource Center. So far we have had very few problems with our guests because they know the rules and they are appreciative of the service that we provide.

—The Rev. John Martin is a deacon in the Diocese of Maryland.

The Rev. Melanie Mullen

Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care

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