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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: Jail chaplains bring healing and hope. Inmates need more of them

Chaplain
Avivah Erlick, a Jewish chaplain, visits an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on July 29.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Thanks for the article on the need for chaplains of different faiths at our local jails. While many faiths ask their followers to care for prisoners, most of us have little idea of who the “prisoners” are.

Two years ago, the Guibord Center, an interfaith educational organization, put on a program that brought former prisoners together with chaplains of different faiths. Those who served time shared their ongoing struggles with self-hatred, depression and despair. These soul-crushing emotions only began to change through experiencing the nonjudgmental and compassionate presence of a chaplain.

It is often faith that gets people through the truly tough times. In times of incarceration, it is vital that people have access to those who represent their faith in whom they can find both redemption and guidance.

From our program, we learned that the cost to these chaplains, who were hopelessly overwhelmed and outnumbered by our massive jail population, was enormous. Still, they spoke with humility and gratitude about how these prisoners change their lives for the better too.

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These programs are essential. They bring hope. They heal. We need chaplains across all faiths.

Lo Sprague, Los Angeles

The writer is president of the Guibord Center.

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To the editor: The most meaningful Yom Kippur service I have ever attended was at the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail last month. It was led by the former chaplain, Rabbi Avivah Erlick, who now volunteers when she has a chance.

There was no Torah, nor were prayer books available; there were a few copied pages with which we were able to follow along. But Rabbi Erlick blew the shofar, bringing tears to the eyes of the inmates and a few guests as she led us in the familiar prayers asking for forgiveness.

How sad it is then that the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles chose to end Rabbi Erlick’s funding two years ago, leaving behind the inmates who so needed her visits and the services she led.

Dorien Grunbaum, Los Angeles

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To the editor: These jail chaplains do a superb job ministering to the religious needs of inmates, but the publicly funded Los Angeles County office of Religious and Volunteer Services (RVS) violates the fundamental principle of separation of church and state.

What about inmates who are atheists, agnostics and humanists? According to its website, RVS “coordinates all religious activity within the jails,” representing “eight major faith groups and numerous sects.” Government funds should not be used exclusively to fund “religious activity” in violation of the 1st Amendment prohibition on “establishment of religion.”

Nonbelievers in jail deserve county support for programs and counseling to address their human, personal, moral, ethical, emotional, psychological and nonreligious spiritual needs.

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Stephen F. Rohde, Los Angeles


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