Sister Timothy Kirby chuckled when she told the audience that she spent a good time in prison.
Sister Kirby related her experiences in the prison as part of her opening speech for the annual Community Day send-off in Mitchell Auditorium.
"Anything you can do for other people you'll find rewarding," Sister Kirby said. She volunteers at the local federal prison.
She began her prison ministry at the prison in Duluth more than 23 years ago. Sister Kirby had no idea what she was getting into when she first started volunteering. At first, she attempted to organize a choir, but that idea didn't work well with the inmates.
She eventually found a compromise that interests both her and the inmates. Every Wednesday night, she meets with a small group of inmates to discuss the scripture they read for that week.
The inmates that she meets every Wednesday are called her "faithful congregation," as Sister Kirby nicknamed them.
Jay Newcomb, coordinator of Community Day and director of Academic Support Services, said, "She has such a respectful relationship with the men there and calls them 'her boys.'"
She also goes to the prison to deliver a religious service every Sunday morning.
The inmates of the prison come from all over the country. In the 14 years a man spent in prison, he never had a visitor, Sister Kirby said. His family lived too far away and couldn't afford to visit.
The majority of inmates are serving their time for felonious crimes, but some are also educated people such as doctors, lawyers, politicians, and judges. "These educated men aren't going back but some of the drug criminals are waiting to get out and do it again but smarter," Sister Kirby said.
On Sister Kirby's visits, she discovered that the hardest thing for the inmates was knowing their families are suffering. While the inmates have a roof over their head, food on their plates, and beds to sleep in, their families do not have these amenities. Therefore the inmates feel guilty.
Sister Kirby compared the inmates she volunteers with to the students in the audience to whom she was delivering her speech. She said, like St. Scholastica, the local federal prison has beautiful grounds. When Sister Kirby goes there to volunteer, she can see people walking around the beautiful grounds just like she sees people at the St. Scholastica campus.
Although the prison facility is neat and clean, the living quarters of the inmates are extremely crowded. She also compared the living conditions of the inmates to the students' living conditions. One prison cell is maybe half the size of one Somers Hall dorm room. Inside this tiny room reside six inmates crammed into bunk beds, Sister Kirby said.
Sister Kirby explained that the inmates never have any time alone or away from their roommates. These discussions on Wednesday nights are a place where the inmates can escape their crowded room and discuss the scriptures.
"This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done," Sister Kirby said. Along with discussing scripture with them, she now spends more time praying for the inmates and their families.
Sister Kirby believes that the inmates could pay back society by volunteering. But instead, they sit in a warehouse-like environment where they do nothing productive all day, Sister Kirby explained.
"The other sisters know not to ask me to attend something with them on Wednesday nights because I have to go meet with my boys," said Sister Kirby. Her volunteering at the prison is such an important thing in her life that she never misses.
She never intended to volunteer at the prison for this long, Sister Kirby said. She has created friends for life. Her twice-weekly trips to the local prison are very important in their lives and hers as well.
Newcomb said he chose Sister Kirby to deliver a speech at the ceremony because "she is such a great role model. She is in her 90s and still works full time and volunteers at the prison of all places. I thought her story would illustrate how a person can get out of their comfort zone and contribute to others."