Prisoner Visitation and Support: A Unique Ministry

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Prisoner Visitation and Support (PVS) is the only nationwide, interfaith visitation program with access to all federal and military prisons and prisoners in the United States.  Sponsored by 35 national religious bodies and socially-concerned agencies (consisting of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and secular organizations), PVS seeks to meet the needs of prisoners through an alternative ministry that is separate from official prison structures.

PVS was founded in 1968 by Bob Horton, a retired Methodist minister, and Fay Honey Knopp, a Quaker activist, to visit imprisoned conscientious objectors. Prior to that, Bob Horton had been visiting prisoners since 1941 and Fay Honey Knopp had been visiting prisoners since 1955.

In its first five years of service, PVS volunteers visited over 2,000 conscientious objectors.  PVS was encouraged by the war resisters to visit other prisoners and, today, PVS visits any federal or military prisoner wanting a visit.

Today, PVS has 300 volunteers who visit at more than 90 federal and military prisons across the country.  The visitors make monthly visits to see prisoners who rarely, if ever, receive outside visits.  PVS visitors also focus on seeing those prisoners with an acute need for human contact:  those serving long sentences, those frequently transferred from prison to prison, and those in solitary confinement and on death row, including ADX Florence, CO, and USP Lewisburg, PA, the two most secure prisons in the U.S.  No other group has this access.

PVS is very selective in appointing local volunteer visitors, who are appointed only after a personal interview with one of the two PVS visitor recruiters.  Visitor training is provided by ongoing contact with the PVS national office, a PVS training manual, a PVS video, and an annual workshop.  PVS visitors must:

·        Be able to visit regularly, at least once a month.

·        Be good listeners, who reach out to prisoners in a spirit of mutual respect, trust and acceptance.

·        Be aware not to impose their religious or philosophical beliefs on prisoners. 

A prisoner at the federal prison camp in Danbury, CT made the following comment after receiving a PVS visit:  “I feel like I’m not in prison.  I feel normal when I talk to my PVS visitor.  I feel I could become part of the community, again.”  This remark comes from one of the many prisoners and visitors who are featured in a 20 minute video, now available, about the PVS program.

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, says, “PVS does good work and I should know that.  I had the privilege of addressing the PVS visitors at their annual training workshop in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1994.”

Since PVS does not seek or receive any government money, so as to be independent of the prison system, it is dependent upon donations, which are tax-deductible, from individuals and congregations.  If you know of anyone who might wish to make a donation to PVS, or who might be interested in becoming a prison visitor, please let PVS know by writing to:

Prisoner Visitation and Support:  1501 Cherry Street; Philadelphia, PA 19102


Phone:  (215) 241-7117; Fax: (215) 241-7227


CFC Donor Code:  10005

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