Our greatest prison
Alfredo Bencomo, is a family brother here at the Monastery. He has a prison ministry, he goes in and gives talks in the local jail once a week. He wanted me to write something for the prisoners to read, about not coming back after they are released. He tells them, “Returning to prison is not an option”. He seems to have a real gift with prisoners, they respond to him. The fact that he looks like a bouncer has nothing to do with it ( I think). Here is the piece I wrote for him--Br. Mark
It is normal for most people to feel closed in by life. This can happen for many reasons. It is prison-like and can deplete the one experiencing it of hope, joy, and even love. It can isolate. Sometimes, this sense of being locked up can be traced back to oneself, not always, but sometimes. The only way to find out how one is causing some of their serious troubles is to take stock of oneself, which is not always easy. We all have blind spots in our souls, which are obvious to others, but hidden so deeply, that the one carrying them simply can’t see. However, suffering can be a wakeup call that can help the one suffering to seek deeper understanding.
Being in an actual prison, I have no doubt, is very intense, since one is with many others with deep issues that put them there in the first place. So prisons are places where the worst possible scenarios can be played out. Violence, sexual assault, drugs, and murder, are not unusual in many prisons. An endless cycle of suffering, blaming and striking out.
From my experience in writing prisoners, there are quite a few who do take responsibility for the reasons they are incarcerated and are doing something about it, In order that they will not go out, and then repeat the same mistakes and wind up where they started. Even those who are in for life, who seek change, live better lives and are respected by many who are there.
Humility is a necessary component for growth since humility is open to learning about one’s soul, its wounds, need for grace, and seeks to make amends if possible. So cycles can be broken. In prison, paradoxically, one can find inner freedom that was unknown while out in the so-called ‘real-world’.
The default position for mankind is to consider oneself the center of the universe. The more that is believed the more difficult life is and as the list of enemies grows so does the chance of having a violent end. When there is an awakening when it is understood that one has a soul and that they are children of God, the default position of self-centerless can change to other-centerless towards God. This allows the life of God to grow, and in that reality, there is healing, and one is no longer the center of the universe, or less so. Self-knowledge also leads to compassion for others, since we can’t put on others our own hidden faults and yes, evil tendencies. We learn to actually see others on ever deeper levels, a lifetime journey.
So being in an actual prison can save one’s life and yes one’s immortal soul. It can be a grace from God, a wake-up call to conversion. If one is a Christian it can lead to a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus, who reveals God’s love as “Agape”, a love like no other. Infinite, always yes, a love that pursues each human being, because each is precious to our loving God.
Those of other religions also grow towards God as revealed to them by their traditions. It is also a good time to learn from others who believe differently, to see how grace works in their lives, and even pray with them. There is one God, who is well beyond any ideas we may have of the nature of the Infinite One. Yet in the Christian faith, is also revealed as Father.
In prison, each day can be a day where greater inner freedom is achieved. There are many choices that have to be made, either towards becoming more loving or to move towards self-centeredness that is destructive.—Br.MD