The Prisoner’s Prayer Book by Louise Ann Sipes Reichert-reviewed by Tyler Tichelaar, April 2012, Marquette Monthly
Louise Reichert, a Detroit native and Marquette resident, has had a long career in social services and is retired from Michigan’s Department of Human Services. She is developing a support group for the families of prisoners.
The seed for Reichert’s The Prisoner’s Prayer Book came when she joined a prison ministry that took her into one of Michigan’s oldest prisons, joining Level 5 prisoners for prayer. Discovering that many of the prisoners had difficulty reading and that they wanted to pray, she began writing prayers for them. She realized the importance of prayer for prisoners and states in the book, “I met men who were eager for the merest connection of a handshake. No matter their outer bravado, I saw men who feared there was no one ‘out there’ who cared if they lived or died.”
Reichert wrote The Prisoner’s Prayer Book as a series of conversations with God, from the prisoner’s perspective. The prayers are for prisoners, the illustrations are by prisoners, and the book is intended for anyone involved with prisoners.
Each prayer reads a lot like a poem and is one page long. The prayers are divided into six sections, each with an accompanying illustration: We All Have Needs, He’s Still My Brother, I’m Blessed in Spite of It All, Recognizing the Past, Moving On, and Knowing Whom to Trust. A foreword by Doug Tjapkes, founder of Humanity for Prisoners, addresses the major question this book asks, “Does Jesus care?”
I did not know what to expect from this book, but I found it insightful and heart-wrenching. It revealed that people in prison are not that different from those of us on the outside. We all have similar feelings, make mistakes we regret, and have basic needs for human contact, touch and affection. Some of the themes in the book include being in prison when you are innocent, no one caring whether I live or die, dealing with addiction, becoming addicted to God, aging, facing death in prison, fear of going before the parole board, and how to cope with reentering the real world.
The prayers are heartfelt and moving, including requests to God to let the prisoner’s life be worth something, to help him be there for others in prison who need him, and wondering whether, in cases when a prisoner is innocent, he is in prison for himself or so God can use him to help another.
I imagine this book has a limited audience and many people will be resistant to reading it, but Louise’s prayers remind us that Jesus spoke even to murderers. Reading The Prisoner’s Prayer Book will be an experience in compassion and understanding for those willing to take the journey.
You can visit Louise Reichert at: prisonersprayerbook.com.
A support group for family and friends of current or past incarcerated persons meets every second and fourth Thursday at Catholic Charities, 347 Rock Street, Marquette. For more information, call 227-9119.