Since I ministered in the psychiatric unit of a women’s prison for twenty-eight years, I am use to people who ask, “Do you really think those women get anything out of the church services?” Yes, I do. My favorite example is the schizophrenic woman in the back of the room.

Prison Stories

How a prized prison commodity turned ritualistic for a group of women believers

Credit: Catalina Bessell/Moment/Getty

When new prison ministry volunteers and inmate worshippers attend services at the California Institution for Women (CIW), they are invariably surprised as the inmate ushers hand them a neatly folded rectangle of toilet tissue as they walk in the door.

“Why are you handing me toilet tissue?” they ask.


Linda Lee Smith Barkman, PhD

served 30 years in a California prison, advocates for marginalized women, and her book “Hidden Power and False Expectations” is coming soon from Urban Loft Pub.

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