Unexpected Friends by Matthew Epperson

A simple post card to a prisoner can mean so much.

Inmate Blogger

Last night, when they pass out mail here, I recieved a very peculiar postcard from Brazil. A man named Tiago, who is a Catholic missionary and does outreach to the prisons in Sao Paulo, wrote on his postcard that he was a fan of my blog and that he was particularly found of my post labeled, ‘A New Love’. Tiago, if you are reading this, I just want you to know that the time you took to sit down and write that, plus the postage you footed to send it, was well spent and impacted me in an indescribable manner. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem to do justice for what you did. I had come to a bleak point in my incarceration and your postcard was the enabling benefactor that helped me break through my dismay. My gratitude is suppressed to this blog, but I had to share this…

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Open (Prison) Doors

 

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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.

Tiago

 

Deus e Fiel

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God and Faithful.  Another beautiful work of art from one of the Brazilian women we meet with in a São Paulo prison.  Although she is living in very difficult circumstances, Glaucia, has tremendous faith in God and the gospel.

It was especially appropriate that she gave me this drawing this weekend because Sunday’s first reading was from Genesis 9 describing how God established His covenant with us and sent a rainbow as a sign of that covenant.

In our reflection, after we read the liturgy, we were reminded that the faith that these women demonstrate in prison is a sign for us too.  A sign that God’s presence is everywhere and his covenant is still with us today.

I even learned the Portuguese word for rainbow during this reflection…of course I still can’t pronounce it properly yet.  Arco Iris!

Please pray for these women who continue to show and practice their deep faith in the words of the gospel and the hope for a better life.

A Place for Us by Fifi

(Tiago’s note–This is the fifth in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed. 

In this reflection, Fifi shares the feeling she has being incarcerated shortly after losing her one-week old son.  Please think about and pray for the deceased child, the author “Fifi” and the other women in prisons throughout the world.  Let’s ask Him to provide them with the strength to carry on in these dark places.)

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To be a human is to feel pain, sadness, happiness, and love. But for me, feeling like a human sucks.

If I could go to heaven, I would tell my son how much I love him, I miss him, and ask him how he is doing.  I would ask him if he is happy and if he is proud of me for doing everything I could do until his last breath.

I also wanna tell him how proud I am of him, how he fought for his life, but it was not meant to be, to be a (long) life.

Then I want to come back to earth and live a life like a normal human being.  This is what it feels like to be a human right now for me.

The Wise Owl

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Mira signed her work, “Thank you for being so good friend.  Happy Birthday.  From Russia with Love.”   While it did not come from Russia, I knew what she meant.  It came from her…a Russian…and it came from her heart.  It was a birthday present for me and she was delighted to share her talents; a hand-drawn owl using only a simple black pen.  As we say in Mission, we often get more out of our work than the people we minister too. This drawing and her words are just another example.  спасибо (Thank you) Mira!

 

Prison Mass with Cardinal Odilo

 

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Maryknoll Lay Missioners recently joined the men of Pinheiros Prison in a Mass celebrated by the Cardinal of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer.   The original story, in Portuguese, is at the following link:

http://www.osaopaulo.org.br/noticias/nos-nao-nos-esquecemos-de-voces

Below is a translation of the story:

The Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, presided over a Mass at the Provisional Detention Center (CDP) of Pinheiros, in the western zone of the capital, on Friday, 16 June 2017.

The Mass was co-celebrated by Father Valdir João Silveira, National Coordinator of the Prison Pastoral, and by Fathers Jorge Pierozan, Episcopal Vicar for the Lapa Region, Antonio Francisco Ribeiro, Antonio Ferreira Naves and Pedro Augusto Ciola de Almeida.  Penitentiary agents and members of the Prison Ministry participated in the celebration, as well as the CDP board of directors.

Divided into four units, the Pinheiros CDP has approximately 6,500 prisoners, most of whom are awaiting trial or transfer to other prisons to serve their sentence. The prisoners are distributed in different units according to the profile of the crime committed. The unit visited by the Archbishop, CDP 3, houses approximately 1,600 prisoners who have no connection with any criminal faction.

God wants to restore us.

“Today we are here to say that you have not been forgotten by God or by us, the Church. We do not forget you, “Bishop Odilo told the prisoners in his homily.

The Cardinal also made a reflection from the first reading of the Mass, extracted from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which the Apostle states that “we bring this treasure as in earthen vessels.”

“This treasure is our call to full life, to be with God, it is the grace of salvation that Christ deserved for us all with his cross,” said the Archbishop.

Bishop Odilo also recalled that, like earthen vessels, human beings are fragile and can break. “God wants to restore us from our frailties. Therefore, we must turn to him with humility, ask him for help, forgive us and feed us what is good, take care of that fragile vessel that we are, “he added.

The Archbishop also drew attention to the liturgical prayer of the day – “O God, source of all good, attend to our call and make us, by your inspiration, think what is right and carry it out with your help” , Inviting everyone to always seek the source of this good.

Meeting with Christ

“To accompany, to guide spiritually is to give an important meaning to life and to lead them to an encounter with Christ.” Thus Father Valdir summed up, in O SÃO PAULO, the mission of the Prison Ministry. He also explained that the Pastoral seeks to reduce the impact of violence and tensions within prisons. “The work with the prison is to evangelize and take care of the dignity of the prisoner,” he added.

He also pointed out that the demand for the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation is very great on the part of the prisoners, but the number of priests is insufficient to meet the demand. “Celebrations of the Word are celebrated every week by lay volunteers, but it is not always possible to celebrate masses and attend to the confessions of all.”

Father Valdir also said that the prisoner’s recovery process requires patience. “This process needs listening and openness to gather the person, so that it will gradually recover,” he said.

According to the priest, in these conversations and spiritual services, it is discovered that people are generally brought into the world of crime by the violence suffered in childhood and adolescence. “As a priest, I say that all the people I’ve heard to date have a history marked by violence from childhood,” added the National Coordinator, noting that the main objective is to recover the person so that it reconciles with itself, with the community And with God.

Father Valdir also stressed that visiting a prison is an opportunity for conversion also for volunteers. “We are with Christ behind the bars, even if the person is disfigured by sin, for it is the Gospel itself that says: I was arrested and you came to visit me,” he said.

Missionary Presence

Members of the Prison Pastoral visit the Pinheiros CDP twice a week. Among the volunteers are the couple James and Marilyn Kott, lay missionaries of Maryknoll, a group from the United States that operates in more than 20 countries. For a year and a half in Brazil, Americans attend individual prisoners, pray with them, and teach English classes. The couple reported that the missionary presence makes a difference in the prison unit. “We realize that they are calmer after our visit and prayer. The environment is different, people are less tense, “said Marilyn.

James emphasized that the reality of the jail leaves prisoners lacking quality human contact. “Sometimes we just call them by their name, shake their hands, put our hands on their shoulders so they feel valued,” he said. According to Ademir Muniz, director general of CDP 3, the work of the Prison Ministry is of paramount importance, because “it brings spiritual comfort to this people who are so lacking in support because they are all distant from their relatives and dear ones. ”

In addition to the visits to the prisons, it is possible to collaborate with the Prison Pastoral Care at a distance. There are many volunteers who help in the care of prisoners through correspondence. “They like to write a lot, especially when outsiders are willing to respond,” said Father Valdir. Another way to help is to welcome in the communities of prisoners, as well as to accompany their families, especially their children. The Prison Ministry also carries out a campaign of donation of books for prisoners, with the aim of encouraging reading that allows the remission of days of punishment for each work read by the prisoner by presenting a review on the subject of the book.