LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Gerald Otahal arrived at death row early on a recent Thursday morning, ready for his regular visit to counsel and pray with condemned inmate Gregory Wilson.
What happened next left Otahal puzzled – guards turned him away at the door with instructions to go home as the Kentucky Department of Corrections cracks down on pastoral visits at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
“He has no outlet now. He has no one to pray with. No one to talk to him about the hereafter,” said Otahal, a part-time pastor from Owensboro who ministers to death row inmates. “Good grief. I’m just astounded they took this away.”
What has changed is viewed by inmates as a lifeline snatched away and by the Department of Corrections an oft-ignored rule put back into place.
The policy limits access to inmates by pastors. Under the policy change, instead of notifying the prison ahead of time of plans to visit multiple inmates, pastors must now have one of three slots on an inmate’s visitation list to meet with them one-on-one. The policy change came earlier this month after prison officials objected to a pastor meeting with more than one death row inmate during a visit to the facility in rural Eddyville.
“You have a right over their life,” said Otahal, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “You don’t have a right over their soul.”
The change in pastoral visitation rules comes as three inmates – Wilson, Ralph Baze and Robert Foley – await word whether Gov. Steve Beshear will set dates for their executions.
Dick Murphy, director of social concerns with Catholic Charities of Owensboro, said the inmate-pastor relationship helps the inmates spiritually as they come to grips with their crime and the possibility of dying and keeps them from becoming isolated from the outside world.
Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 19, 2010.
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