Sentinel Staff Writer
January 11, 2009
Jack and Jean Canatsey found themselves alone in a strange world in 2002.
It was a place with little support. A place where people often are afraid or ashamed to talk about what they are experiencing. A place where the usual coping mechanisms may not work.
The arrest of an adult son on child-pornography charges sent the Canatseys on a journey that led the to creation of an unusual ministry: one that helps "outmates" -- families of jail and prison inmates.
Jean Canatsey got the name from the wife of an inmate while visiting her son.
"I liked it. It describes those left behind. There are the inmates and family are the outmates," she said.
Outmates are in a unique position to help one another, she found.
Thomas Gillan, director of the Criminal Justice Office for the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, said family members of the person who commits a crime become victims, too.
"What Jean and Jack are doing has become a very important ministry. The whole concept behind this is peer support. It's people who have walked a mile in those shoes," Gillan said.
Families Ministering to Families meets the third Saturday of the month at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs. The group attracts people from as far away as Lake and Volusia counties. The group has been meeting for three years, and there have been attempts to start groups in other parishes.
"The families of prisoners in Florida have a pretty rough time," said Ken Hise of Fern Park. "We share stories. It seems to help a great deal."
The Canatseys' ministry started more traditionally. They went to the Coleman correctional complex to visit their son Jeff, who pleaded guilty to three charges of e-mailing pornographic images of minors to an undercover officer. At the start of his three-year sentence, his parents went there to visit him. But he asked them to visit other inmates too, and they started to meet family members, sharing information and stories.
As the Canatseys became more aware of what was going on around them, the idea for the ministry started to jell.
"We believe that we are in this situation because we are supposed to do something about it," Jean Canatsey said.
There is a stigma for families, who often don't want the information shared. Even for this story, Jean Canatsey thought twice before sharing. Another member of the group who didn't want her name used said it was helpful to know other people in similar situations.
Toni Furbringer, a psychotherapist in Lake Mary, plans to speak to members of the group at its next meeting. She said the arrest of a family member ranks high on the list of traumatic life experiences.
"When a family member is incarcerated, regardless of the reason, of innocence or guilt, it changes the entire family," she said. "It's a very overlooked population who need to know they didn't do anything wrong."
The Canatseys' ministry helps ease the sense of isolation family members may feel.
Jack Canatsey was numb when he learned of the charges against his son. Jean Canatsey was in disbelief. She went to friends in church and talked to the parish priest, who heard her son's confession the next morning.
"There were no bad reactions, but they [the people she knew] had no more experience in it than we had," Jean Canatsey said. Hearing Gillan while her son was awaiting sentencing was a catalyst for the ministry, she said.
"I don't think you can make it without a support system," Jean Canatsey said
Mark Pino can be reached at 407-931-5935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.