Saturday, October 19, 2013

The new address of Desert Prison Ministry is

The new “unofficlal” patron saint for our blog may be seen here:,0,7399930.story

God bless you for your help!

Thursday, September 26, 2013



Benedicite! Good news: Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville has responded to the invitation to visit the Benedictine community on Death Row in Riverbend Prison. He will accompany me on a visit sometime in November.

I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.—Pope Francis I

When some prisoners throw their feces and urine at guards and visitors, it is very hard to see God in their lives. “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”—Father Zossima, Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (one of Pope Francis’s favorite writers).

More good news: A prisoner in an Indiana prison sent DPM a check for $15 from the measly sums he earns in that facility. God bless you, Daniel!

Another Daniel on Death Row in Central Prison in North Carolina is now without family support. His elderly parents cannot aid him any longer and he has no one else. If you wish to earmark a donation for Daniel, DPM will see that he gets it to use for ordinary needs.

Needed in October: Money for gasoline, books, stamps, mailing costs, and computer repair. Thank you for any help you can give!

Desert Prison Ministry
661 S. Edgewood Drive
Sparta, TN 38583-1105

Hermit Newsletter An Occasional Publication of Desert Prison Ministry

Hermit Newsletter No. 3 Why the Bible is Not Enough September 18, 2013 In which Luthien, the resident philosopher-cat of the hermitage, learns that certain facts must be considered

Hermit: It’s been awhile since I have been able to catch Luthien in a calm and meditative mood. But this gloomy, cloudy afternoon as the season changes into autumn, she caught me out.

Luthien: You’re not here to provoke or anger the men you’re trying to reach, are you?

Hermit: Not at all, but, yes, you know this is dangerous, emotional ground we are treading. The title, “why the Bible is not enough,” is a match box in a rocket factory. I mean it to catch their attention.

Luthien: So reassure them at the outset. There is no desire on our part to question the truth of the Bible or to question in any way that it is the record of God’s revelation to mankind. But standing by itself, in your hands or on your table, it is not enough, right? What does it all mean?

Hermit: Or put in another way, it is enough, certainly, if we rightly understand “enough.”

Luthien: Now you’re getting mystical or something.

Hermit: Don’t mean to be. Okay, just for a moment pretend you are a prisoner, a devout and humble Bible reader, maybe one of those who like to say that you don’t belong to any “denomination,” but “just believe in the Bible,” one who thinks that his Faith in Jesus and reliance on the Word in the Bible is enough. All I want to do is call your attention to some facts, and let the facts stand. Is that flick of your tail assent to my proposal? I assume that it is. Question: how many Gospels are there?

Luthien: Okay, four. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What a dumb question.

Hermit: What if I tell you that there are as many as fifty Gospels?

Luthien: Then I would say you’ve been getting into my catnip.

Hermit: No, that’s the case. In the first centuries after the Resurrection, many gospels were written and circulated. Some of these we know only by report; others, like the Gospel of Thomas, still exist. So why is it that our Bibles have only the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

Luthien: Is this a trick question, or what?

Hermit: No, it’s a really important question. And I’ll give you the hurry-up factual answer: because the Catholic Church sifted through all the gospels that existed and decided by the year 382 AD that only certain books or Scriptures belonged in the Bible. They decided in the same way that many other Acts and Epistles that were in circulation were also to be excluded from the Holy Scriptures. Some of these writings were declared to be heretical, that is, not true or simply false. These days, there are people who want to go back and accept these other writings just as valid as the New Testament.

Luthien: Something is beginning to dawn on me.

Hermit: And it is?

Luthien: That the Bible did not fall out of the sky, ready-made and shrink-wrapped. That if I accept the Bible, I have already accepted the authority of the Catholic Church and its judgments.

Hermit: That is absolutely correct and absolutely undeniable. So if you say, no authority except the Bible, you have unwittingly contradicted yourself, because to accept the Bible is to accept the authority of the Catholic Church that decided what the books of the Bible are. Furthermore, in accepting the Bible, even if you mean accepting the King James version or any other Protestant version, you are already accepting the decisions of the Catholic Church on what the New Testament is.

Luthien: And accepting that the Bible needs an authoritative interpreter?

Hermit: Yes, and we call that Tradition. The Bible you hold in your hands is the result of men like St. Jerome, who made the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, and hundreds of other men, some scholars, some merely poor Benedictine monks making careful copies of the Scriptures.

Hermit: Moreover, the Bible you hold in your hands is not even understandable apart from the teaching authority of the Apostolic Catholic Church. For example, in the early centuries of Christianity, not everyone was agreed on the Trinity or of the dual nature of Jesus Christ. If you existed back then, you might hold the same Bible but be convinced that Jesus was only a man and not divine, that good works alone could merit you salvation, or that Mary was not the Virgin Mother of Jesus. These things—and many more—that Bible-believing Protestants take for granted and dismiss as “creeds”—came about for one reason only: that the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, defined them and taught them.

Luthien: Ouch. You’re hurting my head. Guess I need a cat-e-chism. END See I Timothy 3:15!

Saturday, September 7, 2013


On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 3 & 4, I visited Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, TN. In Unit 2, Death Row, Ron C and David D joined with me in a four hour meeting of prayer and discussion of our formation of a Benedictine community in that unit. Ron and David continue their artistic protests of capital punishment.

On Wednesday, I visited with the Benedictine community in Unit 6, Minimum Security, which has been meeting for over a year and is now entering a new phase. Last week David S., recently confirmed in the Catholic Church, was invested by Father Joe as a Benedictine Oblate novice, and on September 28, Devin B. will be invested by Father Joe as a full Benedictine Oblate. After liturgical Morning Prayer, the group agreed to take charge of itself by having all future prayers led by members of the group and by selecting leaders of the group to administer the Rule of St. Benedict. I would continue to visit and counsel on a monthly basis. Devin B. announced that a daily prayer and study group would begin at 4PM each day.

Other prisoners in lockdown maximum security were visited for individual sessions of counseling and discussion of serious reading materials.

VERY MUCH NEEDED THIS MONTH: Stamps, money for gasoline, money for books, especially catechisms, The Rule of St. Benedict, and other religious classics, such as The Confessions of St. Augustine. Also needed if you have any: Pray the Rosary Daily from

Thanks for your donations and prayers for the ongoing work of DPM!

Hermit News An Occasional Publication of Desert Prison Ministry

Hermit News # 2, Part 2 Why Jesus is Not Enough (continued)

The Hermit: Since the first part of this newsletter went out, Luthien and I have received a letter from Bubba in an Oklahoma prison. Bubba is responding to the passage in Hermit News # 2 about prisoners who build a wall around themselves and their private opinions by saying, essentially, “I have my Jesus and that’s that.”
Here is an excerpt (printed with permission):

And correct, a lot of these guys build a wall around their heart and mind. And no man can get through one of those walls until that person lets the wall down. Maybe some sort of trauma in that man’s life can drop the wall, but only for a very short time, a day or two, that’s when someone needs to say something to him that will reach his heart. Yeh, I had me a wall built on death row for a lot of years, then I lost both my grandmas around 2000. And I finally thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. Then I lost my Mom and I lost all that I had gained again. I put the wall back up, stronger than ever. And then lo and behold, I got my case over turned and it made me upset at first, then about two days later, a thought came back, maybe God did hear my prayers and my Mom’s prayers. Maybe my Mom’s prayers and pain were not for nothing, maybe there is more to life than waiting for tomorrow. I guess tragedy in a man’s life can make or break him. I’d say mainly it breaks his thinking, makes him bitter about life, God, the world. You see a lot of guys with tattoos like F.T.W. and that tells you they had some bad things go on in their life. I hope I never put that wall up again, and I try to let my feelings show a little more nowadays. Maybe not cry, but definitely let a friend or loved one know I care and I appreciate them in my life and I pray at meals even in the Chow Hall [Bubba has recently been placed in Medium], not out loud, but I just bow my head and pray. Each night I ask for forgiveness for anything I think I done wrong. Even if it’s nothing to worry about.  Just want people to know I am grateful to be here and God is in my life, in my heart. I don’t got a personal Jesus , I have a personal relationship with Him. And he hears me. That’s all I need from Him, is just to listen to me and know I want him in my life, for better or worse, Praise God. . . . Tell Luthien thanks for her questions and opinions, cause it was good to hear you explain it all.

[Note: last week, after several months of lockdowns because of gang wars, Bubba was able to attend Mass, make his Confession, and receive Holy Communion from Father Le, the chaplain to Catholic prisoners in the Tulsa diocese of Oklahoma. Next week he will be able to attend a class that will eventually permit him to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Please pray for Bubba!]

Bubba’s response to Hermit News # 2 speaks volumes in a nutshell about being a member of the Body of Christ. Through his membership in the Catholic Church, Bubba is able to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior in the Eucharist, in which Jesus is truly present. “Take and eat,” Jesus said during the Last Supper, “this is my body.” AND IT IS!

Next Hermit News: “Why isn’t the Bible enough?”

Monday, August 12, 2013


Thanks and blessings on all the many who generously donated to the cause of electric fans. In Riverbend Prison’s Death Row, these men expressed gratitude in writing for the relief the fans now afford: Ron C., David D., Oscar S., Howard W., Gregory R., and Billy I. An additional purchase was made for Harold H. in Davis Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, who also wrote to express his thanks to the donors of Desert Prison Ministry. Contributions which arrived too late to purchase fans or which were in excess of what was possible to purchase before the deadline will be applied to other pressing needs. God bless you all!

Books continue to make their way to prison cells. In August, Shorter Christian Prayer, The Rule of St. Benedict, The Missionary’s Catechism, The Compendium Catechism of the Catholic Church, Where We Got the Bible, Prefer Christ Above All: The Bible in The Rule of St. Benedict, and Heavenly Homecomings were mailed to individual prisoners. Catholic Catechisms and Shorter Christian Prayers continue to be needed: if you have copies, DPM would like to have them!

Monday, August 5, 2013



I will allure her [Israel], I will lead her I to the desert and speak to her heart. –Hosea 2:16

The name, Desert Prison Ministry, reflects my searching in Catholic spirituality as a hermit. The Desert Fathers frequently shut themselves into tiny cells in the deserts of Egypt and Israel in order to shuck off the world entirely and find God in the wilderness. Sometimes armed with only a few verses of Scripture and their nearest neighbor miles away, the desert fathers returned to the traditions of Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself during his forty days in the desert before He set about his public mission on earth.

Now, picture yourself in a space 8x12 or so. Many of the prisoners who write me are restricted to such a space except for an occasional shower and an hour’s exercise a day in a cage about as small as the cell. That is why I have sent many prisoners The Hermitage Within, a rare anonymous book on desert spirituality, which tells the reader that if he is to follow the desert way, he must leave all the things of this world and turn through absolute repentance.

That is the challenge that faces prisoners on death row, life without parole (LWOP), or just very long sentences, since the life expectancy of prisoners over fifty is very, very low. Please join with me in prayer for these men and for all prisoners in this world. Your contributions to DPM continue to enable me to send them good books.

THANKS! For all the generous donations to the emergency appeal for electric fans. DPM was able to purchase seven electric fans and get them into the hands of prisoners for August. Books like A Missionary’s Catechism, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, and Scott Hahn’s Hail Holy Queen are deeply appreciated by men who are living lives of repentance (as we all must be).

Hermit News # 2 (Why Isn’t Jesus Enough?) is ready. Write me at and I will be happy to provide an e-copy.

Monday, July 15, 2013



Ron C., a Catholic convert living on Death Row in Tennessee (17 years), does all he can to help other prisoners and to work for prison reform on many fronts. Right now he is concerned with conditions in prisons where there is no air conditioning or existing air conditioning is inadequate (or turned off at night!). Prison cells have no open windows and prisoners who have health problems are especially at risk. Ron has already raised money for four electric fans which are sold through the Tennessee Inmate Package Program. Two more fans are needed, for two good men who, Ron says, “would never ask anyone for anything.” Each eight-inch fan costs 26.95, and the deadline for ordering them is July 31.

If you can see your way to help with this very corporal work of mercy please let me know by e-mail or phone and send a check for the amount to me at the address below. God bless you!

Ken Craven

Desert Prison Ministry
661 S. Edgewood Drive
Sparta, TN 38583-1105
931-316-1796 (NOTE: this is a new number)

Friday, June 28, 2013



As the prison cells begin to bake in July, Desert Prison Ministry is in desperate need of stamps, cash, and prayers. How’s that for a short appeal? Benedicite!

Hermit News # 1

An occasional publication of Desert Prison Ministry.

“Now what is this?” Miss Luthien asks, sticking her paw all over my papers. “You ain’t no hermit!” “I am, too,” I answer, pushing her paws aside (a futile behavior), “I am a poustinink.” “Puss-tin-ink?” She says. “That’s a Russian style hermit. Poustininks stay in their hermit huts unless their help is needed outside. So Hermit News is meant to be a help. It may or may not be. Just keep your paws off the papers and go be purr-plexed.” “Hmmmmpppphhhh.”

During the last year and a half, I have been privileged to correspond with prisoners from New York to California. During that time I have been writing prisoners in state penitentiaries (what a misnomer!) who are short-timers, long-timers, LWOP, and death row. Gradually, I began to get a clearer sense of what I am doing and why. I am convinced that Our Lord has given me this task as a gift. Like some others who undertake this kind of ministry, I set out in ignorance and spent much of my time just trying to learn the ropes on simple things like money orders, commissary rules, prison visitation, and the mailing of books. Bureaucracia. It is a mad, mad, mad world! It is meant to confuse, befuddle, torment, and tax—both the inmates and those who try to help them. And in the Bible-belt states of the South, to execute.

My primary response to all that has transpired—I have tons of letters in files and piles, which my resident cat Luthien delights in throwing onto the floor—is simple gratitude, which is the way all Christians should live daily. The people I write teach me far more than I can teach them. Mostly a life-long teacher, I cannot resist the impulse to teach others, even when they don’t want me to.

The clearer sense that I have come to is that my mission, such as it is, is to two kinds of people—Catholics, and people who want to understand things about Catholicism. My experience is that both need to learn more about Catholicism. Generally, most Catholics today know little about their own faith, its history and teachings. Often, they have been mistaught. Often, the priests or laymen who teach them have been mistaught.

In the non-Catholic (the way I learned to refer to Protestants and heathen when I was in Catholic school) category are people who are seriously misinformed about the Catholic Church and are usually hostile. This includes people who like to say, “I used to be Catholic.” Using the word Catholic in the American South—and I mean just using the word—is like throwing a fire cracker into a henhouse. Some people need to be vaccinated or detoxified before they can be informed.

Informed. I say, informed. Simply that. I cannot convert people to Catholicism. I don’t intend to. And so the only requirement I make of people who want to correspond with me is that they have questions, even hostile ones, and want to learn the difference, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, between “a hawk and a handsaw.” They can continue to be hostile as long as they are willing to question, learn, argue, and laugh. But they are required to put forth that much effort. Or they can find other pen-pals. It’s a big world.

So, if you are receiving this, it means you are already a correspondent or that you are a person who supports DPM with prayers or contributions. I am happy to receive new prisoner names from those with whom I am in contact by mail or from other sources.

“And now,” Luthien mews, “having offended nearly everyone on the planet, could you pass the food bowl?”

Next: in Hermit News # 2, “Why isn’t Jesus enough?” And in Hermit News # 3, “Why isn’t just the Bible enough?”