Jeannine Carcacciolo
The Travis County Correctional Center

Student Spotlight: Jeannine Caracciolo

The quote, "an eye for an eye leaves the world blind" is one that middler MDiv student Jeannine Caracciolo believes strongly in as a worker in the criminal justice system and opponent of the death penalty. Caracciolo started an internship at the Del Valle Correctional Center as part of the Seminary's Supervised Practice of Ministry program.

Carracciolo worked as a web and graphic designer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before coming to Austin Seminary. She loved her work but started to "feel like this kind of work wasn’t doing much to make the world a better place." That idea took roots when thousands of booklets and materials she had worked on for a symposium had to be thrown out when the event was cancelled.

"A year later I decided it was time to get serious about what I was going to do with my life," said Caracciolo. "I had learned about the concept of 'God’s call' and felt I needed some sort of sabbatical to figure it out. I spoke with someone at my church who told me about the Church of the Saviour volunteer program in Washington D.C. I applied and was accepted into the “Discipleship Year” which included spiritual discernment, working at a social-justice or church ministry, and attending classes at the Servant Leadership School. I attended several classes at the school, including two prayer classes, an anti-racism class, and a Bible study on the Book of Acts. I was also working at Jubilee Housing, a low-income housing agency that housed over 850 people in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. I realized during this time that I wanted to end my graphic design career and begin a new vocation working with people.

Caraacciolo returned to Texas to be closer to her family and decided it was time to consider being a seminarian.

"I really loved the Bible and theology classes I attended in D.C. and wanted to get more of it. I checked into Austin Seminary and Seminary of the Southwest and talked to people about the emphasis and strengths of each school. I finally settled on Austin Seminary even though it wasn’t known for social justice work. I thought I could get together with some other students and stir things up."

Caracciolo entered Austin Seminary and found that her interest in social justice began to grow stronger. 

"For years I wanted to ignore the criminal justice system and articles that said one in one hundred Americans are imprisoned and that African Americans are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than whites," said Caracciolo. "But it has gotten out of control in this country. The message we send is that people are something we can label as undesirable and lock away. It’s not a Christian message. Two years ago I began volunteering with Truth Be Told and started going into the Del Valle jail to facilitate classes. I got to know many women and began to see them as human beings that made mistakes and got caught. Nine out of ten were suffering terribly and their lives were in chaos at the time of arrest.

"The death penalty is the height of anti-Christian messages. Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) calls the death penalty 'legalized hatred.' We are deciding that one of God’s creations doesn’t deserve to live any more and has no chance of changing their lives. And we don’t know how many innocent people have been executed. It’s too much responsibility."

With this in mind, Caracciolo and classmate John Harrison worked to create the "Convicted Program" on April 8, an event in which they offered stories of their and others' time aiding those in prisons.

"We’re hoping to get more people thinking about the criminal justice system and what people of faith are called to do there. Jesus specifically tells us that when we visit people in prison we find him. And yet, it is an intimidating place to go. An ugly, loud, and a difficult place to get access to. But there are ways to make a difference there via an SPM at Del Valle jail or volunteering with Truth Be Told. Even setting up a book group to read one of Sister Helen’s books or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is an important step."