Life inside prison can be fraught with isolation, waiting for court dates, potential violence, uncertainty, discouragement, depression, frustration, guilt, anger, and separation from family. That’s why 250 prison ministry volunteers in the Archdiocese of Vancouver share Christ’s message of love and hope with inmates, communicating care for them regardless of what they’ve done, treating them with respect, and seeking to bring out the best in them.

This National Volunteer Week, observed April 7-13, former inmate Ryan Prasad shares his story of experiencing love and compassion from Catholic volunteers.

My name is Ryan Prasad. I am 26 years old and currently a provincial prison parolee training to become a mobile crane operator. 

Before, however, I lived a lifestyle of selling and doing drugs for six years that resulted in my witnessing friends pass away from overdoses, and my getting involved in shootings and going to jail. I was charged for these crimes in 2016, and this is when my life started to turn around.

After I was charged, I was released on bail to a Christian recovery facility known as Luke 15 House. (Luke 15’s director, Nigel Vincent, is a member of Immaculate Conception Delta. Luke 15 House also has volunteers from the parishes of Our Lady of the Assumption, St. Bernadette’s, St. Mary’s, Good Shepherd, Sacred Heart in Ladner, St. Matthew’s, St. Stephen’s, Holy Cross, and St. Joseph’s in Langley).

I was not a Christian and was a man of little-to-no faith.

I spent 21 months in the recovery house with very strict conditions. A number of Catholic parishioners from St. Mary’s in Vancouver, including Kathy Shantz and Mildred Moy, were there to help men such as myself, and it was through these volunteers and the staff at Luke 15 that I achieved sobriety and transformed my life into a life in Christ. Through the modelling and guidance of these volunteers, I knew that I wanted to become Catholic, and I was received into the Church on April 17, 2017.

On June 26, 2018, I finally had to go to court to receive my sentencing. At the sentencing hearing, approximately 20 people came to support me, including Father Gabriel de Chadaravian, volunteers from Luke 15 House, my mother, my sister, and parishioners from St. Mary’s. The judge gave me a combined sentence of 23 months.

Their support did not end when I went to prison. I was frequently visited by St. Mary’s parishioners and others who prayed for me continuously. This support was absolutely amazing because, as I learned, many inmates receive no visits from family or friends, but they receive great support and visitation by Catholic volunteers.

In time, I was moved from medium to minimum security, and the Church continued to support me. The thing I missed most after I was moved, though, was not being able to attend Mass or receive the Holy Eucharist.

Fortunately, one of the volunteers on the range where I was staying was Bob Buckham, a Catholic volunteer from Abbotsford. He heard my desire to receive Holy Communion, so through his parish he was installed as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and soon I was receiving Communion on a weekly basis.

The Catholic prison ministry helped me stay faithful to the Lord and to trust fully in Jesus as he was refining me in the furnace. Bob supported me through my sentence and always took extra time to keep me on the path of righteousness. He encouraged me to help others in their faith journey and share my testimony with inmates.

On Dec. 10, 2018, I was granted day and full parole, and I was released on Dec. 31, 2018, to a halfway house in New Westminster and a chance to start rebuilding my life.

Once again, support from the Catholic volunteers continued after my release. I met with Bob a couple weeks later and continued strong with my faith journey. I was going to Mass on Sundays, going to Mission Ablaze prayer group on Tuesdays at St. Mary’s, and volunteering some time at Luke 15 to carry my message of hope to the clients there. I was privileged enough to be able to give my testimony at the Mission Ablaze prayer group after my time in prison.

I have met many new friends of faith since my release and continue to seek the Lord wholeheartedly. I am currently living with my family and continue to live out my salvation.

Prison ministry volunteers visit men and women incarcerated in the 14 federal and provincial jail institutions in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and also offer support to the released, if they desire it. Prison ministry works closely with other Catholic ministries, including Luke 15, The Door Is Open (a drop-in centre for men and women living in the Downtown Eastside), the Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel, Sancta Maria House (a recovery house for women), and street ministries such as Agape and Good Shepherd Ministry.

To learn more about Catholic Prison Ministry or how to participate, email [email protected]