As he transitioned back to working in the family business in western New York, Tom Briody decided to take some time off and immerse himself in a grassroots ministry. While he searched for the right opportunity, a friend mentioned a prison ministry at nearby Attica State Prison, the site of an infamous 1971 uprising that left 39 people dead. Curious, Briody went for a visit. He was imme diately hooked.
“Clearly prison ministry is not one of those things that many people get interested in. It’s an overwhelming feeling to put a face to the concept of prisoner, see the humanity behind it and realize that we’re not that different,” says Briody, a 1980 graduate whose daughter and son now attend Xavier. “The differences often come from how we’re brought up; they’re often coming from poverty and single-parent families, and obviously they’ve made bad decisions, but a lot of the contributing factors are beyond their control.”
Briody threw himself into the ministry, called Cephas, and began travelling to Attica two days a week to help lead discussion groups in which prisoners laid bare their emotions, regrets, past hurts and hopes for the future. When Briody began his current position as managing partner of the Pinegrove Estates retirement community, he could no longer be at the prison twice a week. Instead, he became board chairman of Cephas and used his administrative background to help develop its strategic vision and secure funding. He also helped guide Cephas through a merger last year with another prisoner-outreach program. The resulting PeacePrints Prison Ministries operates three re-entry residences as well as the support groups and assistance to prisoners’ families.
Briody’s day job has ministerial aspects as well. He is passionate about educating people on successful aging and seeing older adulthood as a chance for growth instead of a period of decline. “We have so much control over the aging process,” he says. “It’s important to stay socially connected, physically active, keeping the mind and the spirit engaged. It’s knowing what touches your heart and then having the opportunity to actually engage in it.” Even if it takes you to prison.