Dear Friends of Mary House ...
It has been 34 years since our first chilly December at Mary House and thanks to you we are still here, looking forward to welcoming families who have traveled to visit a loved one in the Federal Correctional Facility at Oxford.
We’re grateful for the honor of spending time with these children who have come such a long way to spend precious hours in a difficult and sometimes terrible place. And we are beyond thankful to all of you who have supported Mary House over the years and kept our doors through thick and thin.
It is thanks to you, our extended family, that this experiment in mercy and solidarity is still alive here in the fields of Wisconsin. When our guests come through the door it is thanks to you that the lights are on and the fridge is full. It’s thanks to you that the beds are made and the water is hot, and its thanks to you that we have the joy of welcoming these strong, determined, loving children. I know there are families making plans now, and children who are waiting, patiently or not, for the day they arrive and walk through the metal detector for a visit that’s been anticipated for weeks or months, or maybe for a whole long year. We are grateful to you for making this possible, and I hope you will consider supporting hospitality at Mary House in the year to come.
Since Mary House opened, the US prison population has grown every single year. Today the United States is home to the second largest number of prisoners worldwide, second only to China (and Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison). Roughly 1.68 million people were behind bars in the U.S. in 2023. If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 20 US residents (5.1%) will serve time during their lifetime. Seventy percent of convictions in our justice system result in prison or jail time, making our rate of incarceration the highest in the world.
Over five million children in the United States have experienced the incarceration of a parent and an estimated 2.7 million children will face the coming holidays with a parent behind bars. These children and their families struggle not only with the loss of a parent but also with the financial burdens that come with incarceration, and which will continue to impact their families long after the sentence has been served.
It is the youngest members of these families, children who have committed no crime, that pay the greatest price for our national addiction to incarceration.
Two-thirds of the parents serving time in prison have never had a visit from them, largely because they are incarcerated too far away from their children for visiting to be possible for families already coping with the financial burden of imprisonment.
So the children who will stay at Mary House this Advent and holiday season are beating the odds, at great cost to their families, and they deserve every ounce of our respect and support. They are doing the ONLY thing that is known to reduce the chances of an incarcerated person returning to prison after release: They are preserving ties to loved ones outside the bars.
All year long these children have been doing the real work of Christmas, and the coming holidays will be no exception. Many of them have been looking forward to traveling here for months, and I’m grateful to all of you for helping us greet them when they finally climb out of the car and drag their pillows and backpacks through our door.
For many of them the winter trip they’ll make to Wisconsin is their family’s only vacation. Travel costs have risen and for many of the families who visit us wages have not kept up. These children are choosing a long trip through a cold landscape to arrive in a concrete visiting room over a trip to Disney, and their families are choosing to bring them here over everything else they might be longing for.
As the world around them grows ever more divisive, and civility and kindness are harder and harder to find, we would do well to look to these children for advice on how to live in the world we have made. In this time when we seem to have lost our humanity, they are clinging to theirs.
They have priorities that should put our furious consumption to shame. They know it’s not the shoes, or the phone, or the mountain of shiny wrapping paper that matters. When they find their way through the door and past the metal detector they will have left all that behind and brought only their own good hearts.
So I am deeply grateful to you for your help in making sure this house remains here for these children and the adults who cherish them, this holiday season and throughout the coming year.
I know that I’ve been asking for your help to keep this house open for a long, long time, and I’m so grateful for your generosity and your confidence in Mary House over the years. Without you, our small extended family with the big kind, generous, heart, we would not be here at all.
Thank you for helping us welcome these children and their families, and for keeping our doors open in the year to come. May your own family and loved ones be safe and well this holiday season, and may your new year arrive with courage and hope.
Thank you all for your kindness and your generosity.
With deepest gratitude,
Cassandra Dixon, for Mary House - Dec 2023
Your contribution to Mary House, in any amount, is tax deductible. Please use our PayPal link at https://www.paypal.me/MaryHouseHospitality, or visit our website at www.themaryhouse.org. Choose “support” in the menu, then choose “donate”.
Or you can mail a check to 3579 County Road G, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
PS: I would like to apologize personally to anyone I’ve failed to respond to or thank over the past year. It has been the most challenging year I can remember and I greatly regret having been less than fully present for Mary House.
I was assaulted by an Israeli settler in March while I was in Palestine, had a fractured skull, and spent a lot of the summer recovering, And since October 7 I have been so shocked and devastated by the ongoing genocide in Gaza, and so terribly worried for the lives, safety and future of dear friends in the West Bank, that I seem to be moving through thick mud.
I am deeply grateful to all of you, and especially to our guests, for forgiveness, patience and understanding in this heartbreaking time. Cassandra Dixon