Open (Prison) Doors


Prison Door 2.jpg

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.


Obrigado for Walking the Way Together

IMG_4336Just a very short post to you to share my thanks to all who posted a comment for Fifi (Netherlands) and Dawn (Canada) last week on their refections and poems.  I was able to share your powerful words  with them over the weekend and they were both very grateful.

Fifi was especially surprised and pleased to read all the loving comments on her thoughts about depression; especially when I explained to her all the different countries that were represented in the comments.  She is still struggling with her own loneliness and depression while living in prison but your words and thoughts provide comfort to her and the other women prisoners she will share them with.

Fifi immediately gave me another reflection for me to share with you.  Its written in her native Dutch language so I need a couple of days to translate it first.  Please be patient with me.

We are walking this camino and mission together.

Obrigado and abraços!  Thanks and hugs from Brazil.



Hard Outer Shells and a Delicious Seed


Probably like you, I like nuts  A nut is encased in a hard outer shell but the seed inside is softer, edible and tasty.  Most of the nuts we enjoy have protein, healthy fats, important nutrients, and most importantly, energy.  (We especially like to eat Brazilian nuts.)

Like nuts, the prisoners we meet with in São Paulo’s prisons often have a hard outer shell that is difficult to crack open and peek inside  The opening process takes time and effort but in the end is well worth it.

One method to cracking open that hard exterior of prisoners is to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings through writing.  If you have been following my blog for a while you know that some of the foreign women we meet have been sharing their reflections with you.  They are always so delighted when I visit and tell them about their posts on Tiago’s Mission Tales.

This week I will have especially good news for Fifi and Dawn who shared poems and reflections with you on this site.  Their writings were recently shared on another very popular blog called Inmate Blogger (  Since then, the posts have received many more Likes and Comments which I will share with them when I next visit.

Inmate Blogger is “ready to become the worldwide leader in inmate blogging and is a collection of blogs written by inmates. It serves as a platform which allows them to share their individual stories, opinions, talents, and their inner thoughts. You can lock up a man (or woman), but you can’t lock up their mind. We support, understand, and believe that writing can be a great source of rehabilitation, growth, and healing.

I have enjoyed reading the powerful words from prisoners on Inmate Blogger and I encourage you to visit the website if you enjoy this type of writing, reflecting and sharing.

Like opening and removing the shell of a hard nut, the writing process for these men and women can reveal a softer and delicious seed inside.  The seeds are healthy and energy-filled for all of us and I would like to thank Inmate Blogger for sharing these seeds with a wider audience.

Abraçoes!  (Hugs)



Depression by Fifi


(This is the 7th in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil and the third by Fifi.  In this reflection, Fifi shares her feelings on depression and more importantly how she can help others with their own depression.  Please think about and pray for the author “Fifi” and all the depressed women in São Paulo’s prisons.  Fifi has given her permission to share her reflection via this blog post although her name has been changed.

If you are inspired to comment on Fifi’s reflections, please add a supportive note in the comment section below and I will ensure she gets your comment.  

What is depression?  I have no idea but I experience it with a lot of “ups and downs.”

One moment I am happy and the next moment angry…and sad.  There are many feelings of pressure on both my body and mind; sadness, anger, frustration, happiness, disappointment…all in my mind as well.

The only way to handle it is to find a way to stay calm and talk to somebody.  Other ways to stay calm are by writing and coloring.  Everyone has their own way. And a lot of people (in prison) don’t dare to come out of their depression, because there is no need.

Also, here you can come out from your depression, but it takes some time.  And once you are out of it, and you are your “old self” again, you can be proud of yourself.  And you must be stronger!

So I want to tell everyone who has the same depression, “Don’t be ashamed of yourself.  You are not alone.”

I wannna ask those people to write something about their depression and their experience so we can share together and (work) to achieve to be better in life.

The Loss of a Loved One by Fifi


(Tiago’s note–This is the sixth in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil and the second by Fifi.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed.  In this reflection, Fifi shares the feeling of loss after losing her one-week old son shortly before coming to prison.  Please think about and pray for the author “Fifi” and her angel.  Pray for the thousands of women in prisons who also desperately miss their loved ones.)

When you lose a loved one, it is very painful.  It is like they take a piece away from your life.  For some, its easier to get over than another; everyone is different.  The pain will never go away, but you will learn to live with and handle it.

The moment the person you lose is going to heaven, it is better but still very painful for the loved ones left behind.  Everybody handles the grieving process differently.

In your mind, you know its better that your loved one has gone to heaven, but in your heart you want something else.  Your loved one has no more pain and can be happy in heaven; away from your life they are actually nearer.  I know that I will always have the new angel with me and he will watch over me.

Carnaval 2017

As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner you get to experience the wonderful culture of the country you are assigned to.  We are especially lucky to experience Carnival in Brazil.  The Carnaval Samba competition in São Paulo is an amazing two nights of Colors, Music, Costumes, Floats, and Dancing. More importantly, the festival highlights the incredible energy and creativity of the Brazilian people and culture. Here are some photos that attempts to capture a portion of that energy and creativity. Parabéns São Paulo! Enjoy. Tiago

Accompaniment in Brazil


A Brazilian prison guard walked into our prison English class on our US day of Thanksgiving and asked for Tiago. As I was the only Tiago in the room, I was a bit surprised. Marilyn and I had been teaching our students new adjectives through the story of Thanksgiving; Big Turkeys, Sweet Potatoes, Yellow Corn, Green Peas, and Round Pumpkin Pies. Now my thoughts turned back to the guard as he asked me to follow him outside the room. It turns out my good friend “Alex” was being released from the prison after 13 months and was asking for me.

The guard led me to a building near our class and I found Alex where they process prisoners in and out of the prison. He explained to me he did not have an national identification or any money. Since his home was a two-hour bus ride to the interior of Brazil, without ID or money he had no way of getting home. He asked me if we could help him return home. I was excited that he was being released and assured him that we would help him. The guards conducting the out-processing looked at me coldly and told me we could wait for Alex outside the prison.

After class, Marilyn and I waited outside the prison walls for almost two hours before Alex walked through the last gate into his own Liberdage (Freedom). Although he was wearing an ill-fitting Germany soccer jersey and old blue kakis that the prison had given him for his journey home, he had a huge smile on his face as he hugged Marilyn and me. All he had on him was a small white trash bag filled with his belonging; his Bible, personal photos and other books. While he was ecstatic to be free from prison you could also sense a sort of shock from him as we began our walk to the train station. He explained “The shock was like that first shot of Vodka.”

As we walked over the bridge that takes you to the train station, we stopped, turned around, looked at the large complex where Alex had been “staying” for 13 months and reflected on his experience. Alex was so excited and thankful when we told him the day was Thanksgiving in the US. We called it a wild coincidence for so many reasons, he called it the “Dança de Deus” or the “Dance of God”. We said a prayer, thanked God, and Alex silently promised himself and his children never to return to that place. It was an emotional moment for all of us. (The pictures on the bridge are from that moment.)

Throughout the hour-long train and metro ride to the bus station, Alex was both excited and nervous, occasionally glancing over his shoulder. Everything was brand new for him again. The hustle and bustle of commuters, the sights and sounds of city, and the smells of real food from sidewalk food vendors were all almost overwhelming but he continued to reflect the whole time we travelled. Alex explained, he “had not seen the moon in 13 months,” and could not wait to see it again. He also explained that “There are only two days when you go to prison, the day you enter and the day you leave; everything else in between is just one big blur.” We can only imagine the feelings he now has and he will always have because of this experience.

We arrived at the bus station and bought his $9 bus ticket home. We then strolled over to a small lunch counter and ordered a Cozinha and Torte de Frango for him to take along on the bus. (Both are small Brazilian pastries filled with meat.) He had been dreaming of Cozinhas for 13 months he said. We all laughed when we told him the chicken inside was really turkey!

We accompanied him to the bus gate and made sure he was able to get on the bus without the usually necessary ID. (The prison had given him a letter of permission to travel without ID). He then bordered the bus after a huge hug and was on his way home to see his mother, brother, wife and his two young daughters.

Alex is a very intelligent, deep, and spiritual person who made a mistake. We have learned so much from him in the short time we have known each other. He is so extremely grateful to the São Paulo Prison Pastoral (Pastoral Carcerária) and Maryknoll Lay Missioners for helping him survive his incarceration. He has paid his debt to society for his mistake and as a result his faith in God and the church have been strengthened. Please think about and pray for Alex as he transitions to normal life. The next few months will prove difficult for him and he is still in need of your support through prayer.


(This story and these pictures are being shared with Alex’s permission. He wanted you to know his story.)