Frequently Asked Questions
A volunteer must have participated in a three-day Charis- or Cursillo-type weekend, either in prison or on the outside. Volunteers must also submit a Charis team-application form. Team members are selected by the lay director.
The motto of Charis is “Listen, Listen, Love, Love.” Careful listening and unconditional loving are perhaps the two most important skills.
Volunteers with particular talents, such as clergy credentials or music, may be able to share these talents on a Charis team. Spiritual directors and musicians are always in short supply.
Charis is active in both state and federal prisons in Minnesota. Each prison has a security level designation that governs entry and exit procedures and behavior while inside the prison. All Minnesota prisons require volunteers to pass through metal detectors and wear ID badges.
Team members always remain together as a group during weekends and reunions and are never alone with inmates or groups of inmates.
Charis gatherings generally take place in a large community room. In most cases, meals in a prison are eaten in prison dining rooms or in the Charis community room.
There have been no instances of personal harm to any Charis team members since Charis weekends began in Minnesota prisons. All Charis volunteers must participate in annual volunteer training that emphasizes personal safety and security. Volunteers are taught how to respond in the event of emergencies.
A Charis team volunteer is expected to attend all team meetings and be present for the entire 3-day Charis weekend. A Charis team member also agrees to attend and participate in monthly reunions at the prison for one year.
Charis is a group ministry, not a one-on-one ministry. Contact with inmates apart from Charis weekends and reunions is not allowed (due to state and federal prison regulations), nor is contact with friends or members of inmates’ families.
Each prison in Minnesota has its own unique atmosphere. The women’s prison at Shakopee is not at all threatening because it’s a short walk from the parking lot to the entry point, there is no fence surrounding the perimeter, and the facility has almost a collegial feel. Some of the men’s prisons, on the other hand, have rows and rows of razor wire and many more people – all dressed in the same kind of clothes. Visiting these prisons for the first time can be intimidating and make you feel uncomfortable.
All that changes, however, when you get to know the residents on a weekend. The stories they share of their hurt, their remorse, their willingness to examine their lives, and their desire to change, cause the volunteer to look at each resident with new eyes. In the words of one female volunteer, “It’s true that you meet Jesus in prison and you really do experience His love and His joy. Soon the long drive seems to pass quickly, the buildings begin to look and feel familiar and, while I wouldn’t ever want to live there, I certainly don’t mind visiting for an hour or two.”