Prison Ministry: Reading

Back to Prison Ministry: Resources

Below are some reading resources for prison ministry and awareness from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.

Ministry to the Incarcerated by Dr. Henry G. Covert

In Ministry to the Incarcerated,  Dr.  Covert  uses  his experiences  as  both  police  officer and  retired  state prison  chaplain  to  examine the  problems  of the incarcerated,  specifically  the  stressors  which  are obstacles  to  a  prisoner’s  personal  and  spiritual development.

Slumber Party from Hell by Sue Ellen Allen

Sue Ellen’s memoirs of her 7 years in an Arizona prison is more like an overheard conversation. The author describes her battle with breast cancer while behind bars and the tragic death of her bunkmate, Gina. It also describes a woman that came out of the prison system determined to change things for the better. Her motto is “Education, not incarceration” and she worked tirelessly with the women of Perryville to reduce recidivism and improve rehabilitation practices until her death in 2020.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer by Jeanne Bishop

Change of Heart begins with tragedy: the murder of Jeanne Bishop’s sister Nancy, along with Nancy’s husband and their unborn child, in their home some twenty-five years ago. After the murderer (a local teenager) was tried, convicted and sentenced, Bishop determined to forgive and then forget him. She became a public defender, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, and a supporter of the sentence her sister’s killer received: juvenile life without the possibility of parole. Her story is about that uneven journey that led to confronting and reconciling with a murderer.

Living Next Door to the Death House by Virginia and David Owens

Huntsville, Texas, has been the site of more executions since 1982 than any other place in the United States. For Virginia Stem Owens and four generations of her family, it’s also home. In this book, Virginia and her husband, David, explore the history of capital punishment and of Huntsville’s prison system. The result is both even-handed and chilling. They study the lives of prison officials, public defenders, parents of criminals, and an executioner.

Jesus on Death Row: the Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment by Mark Osler

The arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus bear remarkable similarities to the American criminal justice system, especially in capital cases. From the use of paid informants to the conflicting testimony of witnesses to the denial of clemency, the elements in the story of Jesus’ trial mirror the most common components in capital cases today. How might we see capital punishment in this country differently if we realized that the system used to condemn the Son of God to death so closely resembles the system we use in capital cases today?

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. 

My Soul Said to Me: An Unlikely Journey Behind the Walls of Justice by Dr. Robert E. Roberts

Intrigued by the community-building work of M. Scott Peck, Roberts’ doctorate research consisted of applying and testing Peck’s community-building model in an environment where it seemed only a distant possibility-the prison system. It was there, in Louisiana’s Dixon Correctional Institution, where Roberts’ life was forever transformed, as would the lives of hundreds of inmates and former offenders. What started as a literacy program evolved into sessions of shared soul searching, group therapy and a celebration of the prisoners’ roots. Roberts went on to found Project Return, the most successful aftercare program for former offenders in the country.

Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice by National Research Council

Even though youth crime rates have fallen since the mid-1990s, public fear and political rhetoric over the issue have heightened. This timely release discusses patterns and trends in crimes by children and adolescents–trends revealed by arrest data, victim reports, and other sources; youth crime within general crime; and race and sex disparities. The book explores desistance–the probability that delinquency or criminal activities decrease with age–and evaluates different approaches to predicting future crime rates. Equally important, this book examines a range of solutions to longstanding problems.

Radical Forgiveness by Antoinette Bosco

A woman who has learned to forgive offenses we can hardly imagine teaches us to free ourselves from the anger and resentment that chains us to those who hurt us, including our own selves. Toni Bosco lost one son to suicide and later another son and his wife to the hands of a murderer. Her life since then has been a dramatic journey to radical forgiveness and inner peace.

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton

This book is an exgtraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Hinton’s story tells his dramatic 30 year battle against wrongful imprisonment (on death row!) and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but not his imagination, humor, or joy. Mr. Hinton was imprisoned with Walter McMillian, the subject of “Just Mercy.” Bryan Stevenson, the author of “Just Mercy” and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, was instrumental in obtaining Mr. Hinton’s eventual release.

Arbitrary Death by Rick Unklesbay

This book was released in 2019 and is written by a retired prosecuting attorney from Tucson In his 40 years with the Pima County Attorney General’s office, he prosecuted well over 100 homicide cases and in 20 of those, he sought the death penalty. In this book, Mr. Unklesbay shares nine of these cases and how they were instrumental in changing his decision about the validity of the death penalty.

Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Ruben Jonathan Miller

Released in 2021 and written by sociologist and former chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, this book reveals an often overlooked, yet simple truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve a debt and return to life as a full-fledged member of society is one of America’s most nefarious myths. Miller captures the stories of the men, women and communities fighting against a system that is designed for them to fail.