GARZA: Showing the mercy of God to incarcerated youth

April 9, 2024

As Easter people, we hope that new life awaits us on the other side of pain, suffering and death, as Jesus Christ experienced so that we may have eternal life. We have an understanding of what comes after suffering and we are called to share that message. Special Youth Services (SYS), a DSF funded ministry, takes this message of hope into juvenile detention centers around the Archdiocese through weekly Bible study and pastoral visits.

Some people are afraid to go into a juvenile facility because they expect hardened criminals but are surprised when they see that the children, ages 10 to 17, are actually children. We have witnessed both male and female gang members laughing, skipping and enjoying themselves at special events because they feel free to act their actual age. There is a sense of liberation in their detention. We encounter intelligent, well-mannered, talented kids who deserve a second, third, fourth chance at living a better life. Most of the youth receive visits from volunteers with an open mind and spirit. There was a young man who was inspired to conduct his own Bible study with other youth in between the volunteers’ weekly visits.

Many of our youth ended up in a facility because their home life led them to make decisions that got them in trouble. They suffer at home and search for love and acceptance elsewhere. They may be part of a cycle they feel they cannot escape because their parents also get in trouble with the law. But even those kids can become determined to make better decisions, even to start going to church. Some do when they go home, and we never see them again. We plant spiritual seeds and hope that one day, they will bloom. We have had former youth that we ministered to who have contacted our office with good news of becoming a youth pastor, getting a job, being pre-med or becoming a parent. We cherish those blooms, and we pray for their success.

We have had kids who think they do not deserve God’s forgiveness because of what they have done or kids who did not know they could be forgiven, and that is why visits from our volunteers are needed and valued. The visits help the youth open their eyes and hearts to God’s omnipresence, love and forgiveness. They guide them to understand God’s message to them through His Word. They help the youth identify blessings in their confined lives and trust in the arrival of the light after their darkness.

We hope, together with our youth, that we all fully love and trust the Lord and that when youth are released, they receive the help and support they need to make better decisions that lead to their success.

If you feel a call to serve with SYS in any capacity, please feel free to contact us at or 713-741-8739.

Alejandra M. Garza is an associate director of Special Youth Services.