The deep joy of writing prisoners and what I have learned
Loneliness is a form of invisibility
that only heals when one is truly seen,
to the depths, deeper than one is aware of,
I have mentioned before how I got involved with writing prisoners, well, by accident. A much as I love to write, I have never before I started writing prisoners really wrote letters at all. It simply started one day when a monk asked me if I would like to write a convict, about four years ago (still writing him by the way), even though I did not want to. As my correspondence deepened with this prisoner, I found changes also going on in my own life. Still not sure what that is, but it seems to complete me for some reason. I learn a great deal from them. Those I write, are not con-men. I have had some start writing me, but when they found out how little I could do for them, they stopped.
The struggle in prison is intense, but also on some level, simple. Good, and evil, are clearly defined, so it helps them to stay on track. Though it takes a great deal of fortitude for them to do so. Since it is simpler to discern, they do not have the luxury to lie to themselves. If they are struggling with anger, they know that the outcome is bad there and that unless they take responsibility and not blame others, they will only cycle downwards as time goes on. So, yes, it is a life or death battle, and it makes them aware of their need for grace, prayer, and if Catholic, for the sacraments.
Some admit that being in prison has probably saved them, not only in this life but in the life to come. They know now that their choices create them, and choices without grace, or a good conscience, lead only to deeper pain and darkness. They are very honest, they have to be, and there is little room for prevacation. So for those on the journey towards God, it can actually be accelerated. They also know that unless they become disciplined in their walk with the Lord, they will only fall prey to their impulse control issues, which they know is very serious.
They often have to deal with some serious issues in their lives. One prisoner I am writing is really going through a rough time. It is, of course, being part of the prison system, which is way overloaded. Also, he is in prison for good reason, and he knows this as well. Yet that does not diminish his suffering. He has been in and out of prison for half of his life, but this time around he is taking responsibility for what he has done, does not blame anyone and has the humility to trust in God’s love and mercy for him. He is being deported and having trouble finding a home. It is for something he did in his home country when he was a teenager. He is in his early 60’s at this time. It is weighing on him, and so I responded by the quote below. He feels rootless and very frustrated and being detained until he finds a country that will take him. When very young, his Father was killed by terrorists, and he joined the IRA. So having that on his record, even though he was only in for a short time is getting him kicked out of the United States, even though he is a citizen. He lied when he was sworn in as a citizen about his past. He has been in the country for over 30 years.
From my letter to Johnathan:
Johnathan, You are a true pilgrim my friend. You are in a position to understand the state of all humanity. For in fact, how many feel at home where they are? Our hearts are deep, we are profoundly interior beings, and that is what pushes us to seek God, for no matter where we are, or how much we have, there will always be that loneliness that I believe only the love of God can fill. Here is a quote from the book “In Sinu Jesu” that seems to strike at the heart of the matter:
I am left alone in a world where so many lament their loneliness. If only souls would come to Me and would tarry in My presence, they would discover a love that fills the heart so completely that it dispels every loneliness and becomes wondrously fruitful in the lives of those who accept it.
A Benedictine Monk. In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart--The Journal of a Priest at Prayer (Kindle Locations 3988-3990). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.
Many people think that God is unimportant, yet we are made for a deep loving relationship with God. No matter where you are Jonathan, no matter how you feel, no matter how deep the loneliness you are experiencing, God is there living it with you, because you are unique to him and are loved. Nothing can change that. Yet we are called to live with the struggle every day. You have grown a lot in prison, from what I have gleaned from your letters, perhaps would not have happened outside in the so-called ‘real world’. Each human being is an entire universe to God, so deepen your faith, and embrace your life, no matter how hard it is, your situation. And pray for the millions all over the world who are experiencing what you are now, they are your tribe, and as a Christian, being a member of the priesthood of the faithful, you are called to minister by prayer to all of these people. None of us goes home alone my dear friend, but we carry many with us, through our actions, as well as through prayer. Let no one dissuade you from that reality. Never doubt your experience of God. You are in the desert, but you are being led. Just pray every day for deeper faith and love, both are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in doing that, your heart will become more human, compassionate and loving. When I am in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I remember you and all those I write in a special way. I do believe that those in prison are deeply loved by Christ Jesus, and he identifies with all of you. Many do not know this, or believe it, or want it, yet God’s love is like a rushing waterfall, it never stops nor gives up.
End of quote
I have no idea how this will turn out. If he can’t find a home, he may be detained by the ICE for many years, so a very painful situation.
Some prisoners are forgotten by their families and perhaps for good reason because of their past, and what they did to their loved ones. Yet, they have changed, converted, and are trying to find a new life for themselves. It is an uphill battle, one that they may have to climb without support from their families.
One prisoner, Jim, is trying to deal with his past, and trying to trust in the mercy of God. These memories are very painful for him, and so I shared something that I experienced that very morning during my morning meditation.
From my letter to Jim:
Jim, This morning during my meditation, my past came up, and my past wrongdoings. This happens from time to time. I embraced it, though it was not comfortable. It is God’s love that brings this up for deeper healing. It is important to look to the Lord and not you yourself when this happens. God’s love is healing, and it will slowly deepen your faith. The word ‘shallow’ is not a good way to look upon your conversion, but you are growing every day. Your capacity to love God is also growing. No matter your stage, you are responding to grace the best way you know how. It is all gift, all you need do is to look to the Lord and not to yourself. You could be overcompensating, but so what, it is simply a stage you are going through, the point is to keep on opening your heart every day to the influence of the Holy Spirit, who prays within you, since as St. Paul states, we do not know how to pray ourselves, so the Spirit, groans within us.
End of quote
I see myself in these prisoners, my own ability to do actions that could put me in prison if I did not have control on my impulses. Anger is the biggest culprit for many who are in prison and acting before thinking. They are learning that prayer allows them to stop and take responsibility for how they interact in these dangerous situations, and not simply react. They cease being victims.
So writing these men is humbling, and I get much more out of what I learn from them than what I can share, I believe. I try to make them aware of how much God loves them and is working through them to reach others. No soul is beyond help, redemption, a new beginning, even at the end of life, for God sees the flame that is there, and will ignite it in purifying fire.--Br.MD