Pierre Raphael's Inside Rikers Island:
A Chaplain's Search for God
Page 5 of 13 NYCHS excerpts presentation pages.


. . . Although this is a personal account, my work is not a one-man show. I cannot let the written word outside Rikers Island take over the spoken word inside. Because this book deals with a collective reality, it must include all the people I am with. It is only through all of us that this book can make sense.

I belong to a team. There is Sister Simone, administrative chaplain at House of Detention for Men (HDM). A much larger book would be needed to express the ongoing transformation inside HDM and elsewhere in Rikers Island through the vision and activity of this sister. Talk to Department of Corrections employees, inmates and their families and you will see. . . . . If little by little we have created a kind of supple structure that permits the existence of a community and a church behind bars, . . . then it is certain that much of the credit belongs to Sister Simone.

The team also includes Sister Amy. She has been a volunteer for so many years. Sister Amy is extremely attentive to the sick inmates, those with AIDS as well as the others, always ready for any possible way to help. There is Carmen, who works in her quiet way with inmates' families, and Rita, who is busy at a Detox Center but always attuned to the prison. There are Brothers Pat and Maurice from the Little Brothers of the Gospel. Their willing, open presence has always been a gift.

Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day

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Worker Movement and Dorothy Day.

Photo from Catholic Worker web page featuring Marquette University Archives images of Dorothy Day.

The Raphael book has no images illustrating the text. For design and informational purposes, relevant images have been added and captioned by the webmaster.

There are our friends from the Catholic Worker and the volunteers from Brooklyn's parishes in Williamsburg. All are powerful witnesses for our people at Rikers. There is Kenneth Hoffarth, Director of the Office of Criminal Justice at the Archdiocese of New York. Many times his help and expertise have been instrumental. I consider him a part of the team. I cannot forget also my fellow chaplains in the prison ministry. I hope one day we all will be one together.

I want to give thanks from my head and from my heart for our team ministry, which is both possible and extremely necessary because the material is immense, the matter is urgent, and it is only when we act together with others that anything can go forward. In preparing this book I am grateful to several people who were a real help to me: first, to my friend Robert Ellsberg from Orbis Books, who invited me and welcomed this story; to Bill Griffin from the Catholic Worker, who read the manuscript with me; to Joe Cunneen from Cross Currents, with whom I had substantial talks; to Fr. Tom Clarke, S.J., who always had good advice; to Joan Marie Laflamme, who copyedited the manuscript and made positive suggestions; and also to my translator, Linda Maloney, who did a very good job, in the opinion of my American friends.

I have a brother. His name is Bill Mountain. He is a Jesuit. In many ways his search for God has been and still is an inspiration to me as I carry on at Rikers. I cannot omit him.

Neither can I forget my far-away friend, Henry Tincq, a journalist at the Paris newspaper Le Monde. He came to Rikers Island three years ago. From his trip a book was published in France that we wrote together. I have benefited richly from his insight.

Last but not least, I would like to give thanks to God through those who are or were in Rikers Island, and with whom I experienced or continue to experience the shining part of the journey. If this little book has a soul, it is theirs.


NYCHS presents these text excerpts from Pierre Raphael's Inside Rikers Island: A Chaplain's Search for God by permission of its author who retains the copyright © and reserves all rights thereunder. For more about the book and how to obtain it, contact Fr. Raphael at Abraham House where he is spiritual director, visit Orbis Books, Amazon.Com, or Barnes and Noble.
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