by Jenny Beatrice, director of communications
Five years as a chaplain at the Brown County Jail in Green Bay, Wisconsin, exposed Associate Carrie Arnold to the realities of a broken judicial system that only magnifies the inequities in our society.
Carrie says the experience taught her about the prevalence of white privilege, the devastation of substance abuse and the dangers for people in the LGBTQ community.
Yet, she says, “I also learned a lot about the resiliency of the human spirit and how sometimes it only takes the first step to a better life.” And it’s on those first steps that Carrie focuses her volunteer ministry, supporting those coming out of jail in more ways than one.
“After I retired, I started getting phone calls from people whom I had met while they were incarcerated,” she says. With support from her husband Bob, they not only began mentoring but offering housing and funding to them as well.
Carrie explains, “We have occasionally taken in a person who has found herself homeless while she gets her bearings and finds a job and a permanent place to live. We have also funded an ongoing scholarship at our local community college, with the only requirement being that the recipient has spent time incarcerated. We have what I like to call our Peep Fund that enables us to give limited emergency financial assistance to my former 'peeps.'"
For Carrie, reaching out to people on the margins in such a personal way comes with the risk of burn out and being victimized by the people she is trying to help. One particularly difficult incident occurred when Carrie and Bob took in a homeless addict who relapsed and stole some of their treasured possessions for drug money.
“I try to give without expectation, but sometimes things happen that hurt,” she says. “It’s difficult to make ourselves vulnerable sometimes.”
Such experiences have not tainted Carrie’s perspective. In fact, she finds herself a strong vocal advocate when talking to friends that don’t understand her level of commitment. “When a person has a face-to-face encounter with someone who is incarcerated or poor or homeless or LBGTQ or marginalized in whatever way, I think it is easy for him or her to blame that marginalized person for the negative circumstances in their lives,” she says.
“It’s frustrating to hear a friend say, ‘Why doesn’t he just get a job? Why doesn’t she just quit using drugs? I’m tired of lazy people milking the system.’ I try hard to put a face on marginalization and hope to soften some hard hearts.”
In addition to helping people on a personal level, Carrie works for systemic change, becoming more active in community programs that serve former inmates. She is also a board member of Wellspring, a women’s drop-in resource center. “I learned that we are all connected, and if one of us is broken, the whole is broken as well.”
Carrie is forever grateful to the people she has met through her work who have shared their lives and stories with her, enabling her to, as our Acts of Chapter states, “partner with new eyes.” Her service exemplifies the CSJ commitment to mutuality, collaboration and walking with our brothers and sisters who are marginalized.
“I started this ministry open to however the Spirit moves me. She hasn’t failed me yet.”