Fr. Dustin and I have been friends for nearly twenty years. We were in graduate school together at Florida State, both pursuing a PhD in Religion. I was also privy to the early days of Fr. Dustin’s emerging vision for what would become Joseph House. In particular, I sensed the deep impact of his first experiences ministering to the incarcerated at Florida State Prison, under the wise guidance of Brother Dale Recinella. Amid the maze of concrete halls and solitary cells at Starke, Fr. Dustin discovered, as his very own, Jesus’ prophetic mission to “proclaim liberty to the captives and release to prisoners” (Is. 61:1). Joseph House was to become a sacred space wherein Jesus’ proclamation of liberty could run free.
I was finally able to visit Joseph House when I was in town on August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It happened to be a day Fr. Dustin, along with Fr. Will Ganci, was celebrating Mass for the Joseph House community of residents and friends. I walked in a little late, and was cheerily greeted outside by Joe. I tiptoed in during the homily and sat down behind Quinton and next to Gabriel – men I felt I knew personally from the many stories I had previously heard. The feeling of joy, peace and hope in that home immediately filled my heart.
After Mass, Joe immediately took me straight to his room to show off its bright and happy décor, and gave me a copy of his book. I then got a tour of the backyard sanctuary gardens, and spent time getting to know Gabriel, Quinton and some of the others who there. We shared food, drink, stories and laughter. As a newcomer, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality that made me feel, well, at home. And there was a palpable sense of the holy there. In fact, it seemed to me the Mass continued in this feast, extending the kindly light of Transfiguration to all who came to this home called Joseph House.
A home of the God who sets prisoners free.