- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) - There are no stained glass windows where Art Bucceri is chaplain.

Actually, there are no windows at all.

The 64-year-old former Marine said he found Christ in 1979. The black and rumpled Bible he carries into work is battle worn from the study sessions he’s led as Cambria County Prison’s chaplain.

“There’s times when you feel you are bashing your head against a wall,” he said.

A lot of times, inmates come to Bible studies only to “get out of the block.”

But this is where Bucceri wants to be - now and five years from now - because he’s seen miracles happen, he said.

What he likes most about his job is “seeing people set free.”

“You are freer than people on the outside when you have Christ in you,” he said.

But it can be a long road to that point for inmates, and opportunities to abuse religious objects and events are ever present.

When he gets a new request from an inmate who wants to attend a service or Bible study, he checks the inmate’s records to see if that inmate has enemies and if they are attending that same event. If the answer is yes, he must deny the request.

Not only does he coordinate Christian Bible studies and services, but it’s his job to coordinate religious observances for inmates of all faiths.

The faiths and interests of the inmates on the various blocks of the prison include the Abrahamic religions as well as Satanism and Scientology.

Bucceri was hired to be the part-time chaplain by the county commissioners in January after a decade of volunteering at the prison.

Every day, Bucceri clocks in and stops by his mailbox to pick up request forms filled out by inmates seeking to practice a religion.

He sorts through the papers in his cramped, dim office, which is basically a closet in the “chapel.”

One inmate requests a Christian prayer book for private use in his cell. In response, Bucceri takes a prayer book and picks out the sharp metal staples from the booklet’s spine before he delivers it.

“Everything that has to go to an inmate has to go through me,” he said.

Boxes of the same type of booklets are stacked against the wall of his office, not yet destapled.

Some requests are simply denied. A Native American inmate doesn’t get the peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, he requested for his ritual. Satanists don’t get books that include spells. And Catholic inmates won’t get rosaries because in the past a box of rosary beads of assorted colors became a color-coded way for inmates with gang affiliations to know who was who.

“But when they come to Christ and you pray with them, and you see a blank face turn into a big smile of enlightenment, it’s a burden taken off their shoulders,” Bucceri said.

Bucceri has expectant faith and is a Christian who prays in tongues as prescribed in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Bucceri claims prayer has resulted in physical healings for himself and for the inmates at the prison.

“He has a very positive impact on the inmates,” Warden John Prebish said.

“He’s seen a vast majority of the 400 inmates here. They approach him as a friend, not an authority. That’s needed, because I see the legal arguments with inmates all the time, so it’s good to see the humanity that he brings to their interactions,” Prebish said.

But years ago, when Bucceri returned from Vietnam, he wasn’t the praying type.

His wife, Marlene, convinced him to put on his best plaid shirt and attend a church service with her.

Bucceri said a guitar playing preacher began to prophesy. Though Bucceri sat in the back, the preacher targeted him.

“‘And you in the plaid shirt,’” Bucceri said, recalling what the preacher said to him.

“And he told me things about my life I never told anybody.”

Bucceri said he went deeper and deeper into a relationship with God.

“I believe in Jesus. He is the center of my life, and without him I can’t do anything,” he said.

He became a minister, and his compassion for the imprisoned began when he visited a friend whose daughter was in jail.

“‘Nobody goes to see my daughter,’” Bucceri recalled his friend saying.

Bucceri met the chaplain there who was also an ex-Marine, and his niche in prison ministry was set.

“You see the hurt in their eyes,” he said. “I don’t ask them what they’ve done.”





Information from: Altoona Mirror, https://www.altoonamirror.com

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