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Prison pen pal program goes beyond Year of Mercy
November 29th, 2016
By Christina Gray

Locally incarcerated men and women will continue to receive handmade cards with messages of hope this Christmas and next year from young Catholic students and others as a prison pen pal program launched by the archdiocese earlier this year is extended into 2017.

The Pen Pal Jr. program introduced by the archdiocese’s office of restorative justice for the Year of Mercy connects adolescent Catholic school and religious education students to prisoners in San Francisco County Jail and San Quentin State Prison.

The program is active at Holy Angels School in Colma, Sacred Heart School in Atherton and St. Finn Barr and St. Stephen’s parishes in San Francisco.

Julio Escobar, who organized the program and serves as a liaison between schools and parishes and local prisons, said the program helps young people embrace the concept of restorative justice early in their lives while participating in a corporal work of mercy. Visiting the imprisoned is one the seven corporal acts of mercy.

Students create handmade cards from colored construction paper, addressing the inmate as “Dear Friend” or “Dear Brother or Sister in Christ” and close the greeting with something like, “A friend in faith” and without using their own names. The cards are sent to Escobar, who brings them to the prisoners.

Mary Molly Mullaney, director of religious education for St. Stephen Parish in San Francisco told Catholic San Francisco that her students have been working on Christmas cards for prisoners due to Escobar by Dec. 15.

“We’ve been talking about the Year of Mercy and how it was about to end,” she said. “But it never ends – we have to continue to go out and use what we’ve learned.”

She said she talked to her students about forgiveness not being about “forgive and forget,” but about working together to “make things right.”

She described the message of one student who seemed wise beyond his years.

“Listen up pal, I’ve only been on this planet so long and I’ve learned one important thing: determination ... Practically every tough situation I’ve been in I’ve gotten through by being determined (except my hopes of being a pensmith). Stay determined, Keep looking forward. When it rains, look for rainbows.”

He signed it: “A silent over-watcher that cares.”

Escobar said that the Pen Pal Jr. program is not just for kids but is a ministry that parishes could embrace as well.

Handmade Christmas cards delivered to his office by Dec. 15 will get to prisoners in time for Christmas.

Send cards to Julio Escobar, Restorative Justice Ministry, Attn: Pen Pal Jr. Project, Archdiocese of San Francisco, 1 Peter Yorke Way, San Francisco, 94109. Email

From December 1, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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