Incarceration and Addiction

Rosemarie Haas - February 20, 2020

Father Malcolm McDonald is a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh currently assigned to the State Correctional Institute in Greene County. 

Father Malcolm has had various priestly assignments and while serving at Saint James in Sewickley during 2001, he went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Fatima.  At that time, Father Malcolm’s life was in disarray and he asked for help with the chaos in his life.

In 2003, Father Malcolm resigned from post at Saint James and went into a rehabilitation center for seven months.  However, while at Saint James, Father Malcolm would visit the grandchildren of parishioners and developed a deep affinity for them.  Upon returning home, he was assigned to Western Penitentiary and then Allegheny County Jail.  He remained in prison ministry for nine years until 2014.

Father Malcolm suffered a relapse and went to rehab again for six months, but had to resign the jail at that time.

In 2014, Father Malcolm returned to Western Penitentiary for ministry.  His job duties include hearing Confessions, counselling, celebrating Mass, Communion calls, and verification of family emergency telephone calls.

Father Malcolm said that clergy takes abuse in prison from both the inmates and correctional officers.  He was also asked why he was wasting his priesthood ministering to the incarcerated. 

In any given day, Pennsylvania has over 60,000 persons incarcerated.  70% of the reason for incarceration is due to problems with alcohol and drugs (2:1 in favor of alcohol).  And a lot of the inmates are in poverty and stay in jail due to the inability to hire a good lawyer.

Father mentioned that SCI is tobacco-free, so drugs are becoming pre-eminent.  They come into the facility via drones, food vendors, staff and mail.  Incoming mail is now processed in Florida and sent back to Pennsylvania and this process can take several months. 

Meetings are held in the prison but it is not enough.  The basis for the meetings is a therapeutic community program, focusing on biology, chemistry and physical health.  There is not enough of a focus on spirituality, especially the use of a 12-step program.

Female inmates are the population with the greatest amount in growth.  They are turning to substance abuse to escape abuse and have not been diagnosed with PTSD.  The lack of fathers is an epidemic, as now the children are suffering from no care or discipline in their lives, continuing the cycle of poverty.

Father Malcolm said that sexual offenders are the new lepers of society and asked for special prayers for them.  

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