A new pair of white crew socks might seem like a small Christmas gift. But to prisoners at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution that pair of socks means so much more.
“To guys who are in prison … even more than the utility of the socks is the symbolism of the act of giving to strangers,” said Deacon James Booth, who coordinates prison ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. “It’s the reaching out and crossing over of walls.”
To receive a gift “without even the expectation of a thank you, it’s a pure gift,” Deacon Booth said. “It reminds us of the greatest gift we are given as Catholic Christians, which is Jesus.”
For the fifth year, Deacon Booth is asking parishes in the diocese to collect new white crew socks, men’s size 9-10, that will be included in Christmas gift bags for the prisoners at Riverbend. The goal again is to collect at least 850 pairs to give one pair to every prisoner.
“We’ve been able to regularly over-fulfill the objective,” Deacon Booth said. “We’ve often doubled that.”
Extra socks are distributed as a second pair, he said.
“Given the use that the guys put these things through in their work, a comfortable pair of socks is a very big deal, keeping their feet warm in winter and keeping them comfortable when they have to be on their feet all day,” Deacon Booth said.
Although the prison issues a pair of socks to inmates, they often wear out, and most prisoners don’t have the money to buy additional socks from the prison commissary, Deacon Booth said.
The goal of the white socks collection is to involve “as much of the diocese as we could in a single, manageable, prison ministry related activity,” Deacon Booth said. “People can get involved in prison ministry in a way that is accessible … and it does a whole lot of good and is appreciated.”
To participate in the white socks drive, all parishes need to do is advertise the drive in the weekly bulletin and put out a box or some other receptacle where people can leave their donated socks, Deacon Booth said. He will travel to the parish to pick up the donated socks and bring them to the prison where they will be placed in the Christmas gift bags.
“I didn’t want to burden the staff,” especially during Advent, which is a busy time of year for parishes, he said. “It’s a fairly easy thing to do.”
He would like to collect the socks by Nov. 9.
The various faith groups that have prison ministries at Riverbend collaborate on the Christmas bags project, with each group collecting a different item. Besides the socks, the gift bags typically include a knit hat, Christmas and general friendship cards the prisoners can send to loved ones, stamps, and some kind of treat, Deacon Booth said.
Parishes interested in participating in the white socks drive can contact Deacon Booth at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-430-5893.