SD prison to host interfaith prayer for peace service

A group of free and incarcerated men will lead the Interfaith Day of Prayer for Peace


Kelda Pharris
American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

For two hours Saturday, a gathering of men will share a message of peace and tolerance in a corner of South Dakota that might seem unlikely.

The setting will be the chapel in the main prison at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. A group of free and incarcerated men will lead the Interfaith Day of Prayer for Peace. It’s being hosted by the Compassionate Outreach Group.

Lawrence Diggs of Roslyn is the Buddhist chaplain for South Dakota prisons and a member of the Compassionate Outreach Group He will be leading the welcome for the day of prayer and giving the opening statement. Representatives from 10 different faiths will share prayers or statements from their respective religions.

Dennis Davis — a lobbyist, deacon in the Catholic Church and director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty — will give the closing statement. Mike Huber from the Universal Unitarian Church — All Souls Church in Sioux Falls — will offer a unity prayer.

Nine inmate speakers and 80 inmates signed up to attend, Diggs said.

“It’s set up to be for sharing, but it’s really also about getting people to accept that other people may experience God in a different way,” Diggs said. “We’re doing activities from time to time to let them experience other people’s prayer, get them comfortable enough to ask others about it.”

Compassionate Outreach Group has started a few projects within the prison system with the central goal of sharing “the need for unconditional love and compassion,” according to its mission statement.

An ongoing effort is sending out handmade cards to inmates on certain occasions. Diggs has had a card recipient be so moved that the man asked to join the group. Occasions on which cards are sent include birthdays, a graduation or if an inmate had a parent die.

“Something they need when they need to be reminded of people who care,” Diggs said. “Aside from things like that, they put on recreational things for those who are developmentally disabled in prison.”

The group is also charged with mentoring those who might be secluded, men who tend to stay in their cells, he said. They’ll play games to help them socialize more. There was a suicide watch program revamp championed by the group.

The long-term support of the group takes the shape a parolee program via writing letters to a parole board, making a parole plan and creating a resource guide for when inmates get out and need to find work or a home.

The group meets the second Saturday of each month in the prison chapel. On July 6, it will host a daylong event within the prison called Compassion in Action.

“We try to normalize compassion in the prison,” Diggs said. “So it’s not something special but something expected by the inmates.”

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©2019 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.)

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