Prison ministry is focus of new documentary, reporting series

Call for Comment: How is the Episcopal Church making a difference for the incarcerated?
March 31, 2006

"Changing Lives: Behind the Walls at Angola" is the title of a new feature-length video documentary following the effects of an Episcopal chaplain's ministry inside a prison once considered the bloodiest in America: the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana (

The penitentiary, known simply as "Angola," is Louisiana’s only maximum security prison, located some 59 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. With an inmate population of 5,108, some 86 percent are violent offenders and 52 percent are serving life sentences. There are currently 84 male inmates and 1 woman inmate (at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women) on Louisiana's Death Row.

"Changing Lives" follows Deacon Charles DeGravelles as he ministers to the men inside Angola, most of whom will never set foot outside the prison. Also featured in the documentary is the Rev. Jacqueline Means, prison ministries director on the Episcopal Church Center staff.

Set for distribution online, the documentary will be screened at the Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York City, at 10 a.m. on April 13, Maundy Thursday—the day before the Church’s commemoration of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial on Good Friday.

"This project was a labor of love for everyone who worked on it," said Michael Collins, director of broadcast and multimedia at the Church Center. "I think at the end of the day the whole thing is ultimately about redemption, both for the inmates and those who minister to them."

The concept was proposed through the Episcopal Church's General Convention Office and produced during the course of two years.

The documentary follows several inmates, from a former hospice care-giver now stricken with cancer to a former inmate struggling with everyday life on the outside. The Office of Communication was granted full access to the prison and the cooperation of Warden Burl Cain and his staff.

"Changing Lives" is the first of a series that will explore various aspects of prison ministry.

Call for Comment: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that when he returns in glory, one criterion he will use to judge humanity will be that "I was in prison and you came to me" (Matthew 25:36).

How is the Episcopal Church making a difference in the life of the incarcerated? To assist the Episcopal News Service and the Office of Communication in upcoming reporting, please send reflections and story leads to by April 15, 2006.

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