Photo taken in different prison and different time from the story below.
A recent post on one of my favorite blogs Inmate Blogger reminded me of an interesting story I would like to share with you. The Inmate Blogger post provided important prison quotes/verses and asked its readers to share others with its audience. Here is my favorite quote taken from one of the prisoners I met with last year and I shared via a comment on the post.
We were finishing up one of our religious visits to a Sao Paulo prison in the north of the city. This particular prison is extremely overcrowded with 30-50 prisoners in cells meant for 10-15. All the doors of the cells open to a large football field-sized courtyard where the prisoners can congregate and exercise outside of their cells. Unfortunately, the cell doors (of bars) are only open for roughly 10 minutes in the morning to let the prisoners out. If the men do not leave their cells during this “open period,” the cell doors close again quickly and they are locked in their cells for the rest of the morning. So roughly half of the men, those who left their cells during the “open period,” are in the prison courtyard while the others are locked in their cells.
We spent about an hour in the cellblock reading the Gospel, reflecting on its powerful message and praying with the men in the courtyard and any others locked in their cell who could watch and listen to the liturgy through the cell bars. As we were making our way to the exit after our visit, one of the prisoners who we were praying and visiting with, looked at me with his eyes firmly planted on mine and said, “Thank you for coming. Our doors are always open for you.”
Wow! I was immediately stunned and noted the irony. Here is a man locked up everyday for most of his 24 hours and he was telling me his doors were always open to us. I thanked him for the very warm response to our visit and shook his hand before the guards closed the cellblock doors behind us.
Its hard to describe the hospitality and welcome we receive when we make our visits to the prisons, but this one quote is still the most beautiful thing any prisoner has ever said to me.