Bruce Noddin stands in the foyer of the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn on Dec. 17. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Jail is a place where people wait, says Bruce Noddin, who provides spiritual counsel to Androscoggin County Jail inmates.

“These guys are in limbo for the most part,” he said. Most haven’t been sentenced and are waiting to learn of their judicial fate. And most are struggling with substance use or mental health issues, and often both.

Noddin, who is Catholic, but not a cleric, has met with inmates every Thursday night at the jail where he conducts the first half of a Catholic Church Mass with the inmates doing the readings of the psalms and gospel, then holds a discussion group.

“It helps them find a hopeful way to get through that period of time where they have no control over anything that’s going on,” he said. It can be a bleak existence, separated from children, wives, girlfriends and family.

Because Noddin’s jail sessions are on Thursdays, he has spent his past five years on Thanksgiving Day behind bars with the inmates.

“Everyone of these people who were in jail had more than one thing they were thankful for,” he said. Often, one of the things those inmates will give thanks for is the presence of Noddin and others like him who take the time to meet regularly with them, grateful that “somebody on the outside actually cares about them,” he said.

The men like Noddin, formally named The Prince of Peace Parish Androscoggin County Jail Ministry, talk about faith, but they aren’t at the jail with the aim of converting anyone to any denominational faith. Jail officials, staff and inmates refer to Noddin and his fellow ministers as simply “Church.”

Bruce Noddin stands in front of the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn where he has a ministry with inmates. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Noddin connects with many of the inmates because he has experienced some of their struggles, he said. A recovering alcoholic, Noddin has been through the 12-step program and touts his relationship with God as key to turning his life around.

“We talk about that a lot,” he said.

He and his fellow lay ministers provide the inmates with literature they can read on their own to help boost their understanding of faith and to aid in meditation.

“We try to give them maybe some tools to be able to pass the time with some peace of mind and some hope in a very kind of chaotic and sometimes really boring environment,” he said.

During his time in the jail ministry, Noddin has witnessed some inspirational moments.

One inmate’s impression on him in particular has stayed with him, serving as a model of the hope he tries to instill in the jail congregation.

The inmate he characterizes as “definitely the baddest guy in the jail,” who had clearly lifted a lot of weight in his life, would sit in a back corner of the room and be silent during the meetings, Noddin said.

But he would return week after week.

“You’ve got to understand that sometimes they come because they may want to talk to somebody that’s in another part of the jail that they don’t get to talk to at any other time,” he said. “And some just come to break up the monotony. They aren’t necessarily there to listen to the Word (of God).”

After noticing the inmate’s return time after time, Noddin said he started to see the man undergo a change.

“It went from shaking his hand on the way in, to occasionally a hug,” he said. “And then he started asking questions.”

Noddin learned the inmate had a “great sense of humor and he had a lot to say.”

The inmate started a daily prayer group with others between the Thursday meetings.

“He became more prepared and had grown in his faith as we went along,” Noddin said.

Bruce Noddin stands in front of the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn where he has a ministry with inmates. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Then something terrible — and great — happened, he said.

The inmate had been at the jail for more than a year awaiting the outcome of his case. He expected his sentence might require he stay at the jail for another year.

But on the day of his sentencing, which was a Thursday, the inmate found Noddin, shook his hand, embraced him, then sat down.

He told Noddin the judge had sentenced him to eight years in prison.

“Instead of being angry at the system and instead of lashing out and blaming other people, he just looked at me … and said, ‘Well, I guess God has another intention for me.'”

Noddin said the man’s attitude had served to strengthen his own faith.

“He said a really neat goodbye to the rest of the guys and told them to keep on, and he was just a real guiding force that helped to create the formation of a bunch of guys that carried on in there,” Noddin said.

Noddin sees that inmate sometimes now on visits to the Maine State Prison, where he visits every other week in his capacity as executive director of the Maine Prisoner Reentry Network, a statewide group that grew out of the jail ministry.

“He sends me letters about what he’s doing, helping guys that are inside, not just in the faith sense, but in other ways, trying to help them with their hope,” Noddin said. “So, he’s doing some good work at the Maine State Prison and he feels good about where he’s at.”

“That’s my favorite story,” Noddin said. “I love this guy. I love all them. But that was the best story ever.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.