Lost in Translation

We usually get the notification in a WhatsApp group text message the morning of our Saturday visits;  Unfortunately, one more woman at Feminine Prison of Santana (PFS) has committed suicide.  This week it was the fifth suicide within the last two months.

Normally when we arrive after a suicide our team leader, Eliana, explains the few facts that she knows about the situation.  With my limited Portuguese capability I don’t catch all she knows but when I look around at Eliana and at the rest of our Prison Pastoral group, I always see the deep pain in everyone’s heart.  It often brings them to tears as we gather in the courtyard outside of the prison and pray for the women in PFS.  We hold each other’s hands reassuring each other that our work will make a small difference.

It personally jarred me this week when Eliana said the suicide occurred in the one (of six) pavilion where I make my visits.  I thought of the five or six women I normally visit with and selfishly hoped it was not one of them.  Eliana accompanied me and my partner Gianfranco to our pavilion in an effort to meet and talk to the woman inside. I breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the prison yard and accounted for all of “our girls.” They were waiting for us.

We set our small green stools down in a circle under the shade of the tall prison wall and invited the women over to the sit with us.  After our normal abraçoes (hugs) and warm greetings, the woman explained the latest suicide was by a girl named Michelli.  They did not know her very well because she was the kind of woman that kept mostly to herself but everyone knew of the occurrence and were very troubled.  Eliana did a marvelous job of talking them through the event and gently pushing them to help us understand why these woman take their own life.

Their only attempt at explanation was that the suicidal women lose all their hope and will to live while trying to survive in such a dark place.  They are never alone in prison, however they are always isolated; isolated from friends and family, isolated from the real world, and most important isolated from the their children.  Most of the woman we meet with are mothers.

As we talked about suicide and ways the woman can support each other in an effort to stop this epidemic I was reminded of my Air Force Suicide Prevention training and asked one woman, Andrea, if the prison administration helps them through these difficult situations.  She just said “Nao” and looked away.

We finished with our short liturgical celebration and prayed together; standing together in a circle, arm in arm, as we asked for their personal petitions before saying the Our Father and Hail Mary.  The woman were very happy to have the presence of the Prison Pastoral on that day and explained how they viewed us as their family.  One of the woman pulled out the postcard from Munich I had sent her while I was attending our family reunion.  It was a picture of Marienplatz and she said she cried when she received it because even her family does not send her letters.

They walked us to the barred prison door and we exchanged more abraçoes before the guard closed the door behind us after we crossed back through.  As we walked away, three of the girls were still watching and waving to us through the prison bars and I asked God to make it a long time before the next WhatsApp text notification.

Please pray for the women of Santana and especially Michelli

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Message in a Bottle

Diella (not her real name) wrote to me and said, “Tiago, this was really out of my comfort zone and I am not very good at putting my thoughts into words.  Yet I felt compelled to do it!”

Diella is a special friend from a long time ago;  another life really, and she took me up on my offer to send a short message or refection to the women prisoners we visit in São Paulo prisons.  I knew the girls would be so pleased with the words from someone on the outside, someone they had never met before, someone who showed they cared about them; but Diella was unsure.

Today, we brought 24 copies of her message with us to give to the women inside PFC, the Brazilian foreign-women’s prison where Maryknoll Lay Missioners visit on Saturday afternoons.  As I passed out the small notes with the short message to the English-speaking women, they were a bit stunned and really did not understand.  I explained that a “high-school” friend had written the note and was thinking about them and praying for them.  One of the girls from Cape Verde gave me a puzzled look and said, “You mean, Chicago?”  I said,”Yes” and they began to smile and read more intensely.  Most read the note with wonder before folding it up and saving it for later…when there would be more time.

Her words are a simple but very powerful message for the women we meet.  They live an extremely isolated life; isolated from their children, their families, and their friends.  Communication with the outside world is so important and the note provided them with a signal that there is Life, and more importantly Hope, beyond the walls that keep them isolated.

If you will allow, I would like to share Diella’s message with you:

I want you to know that you are not alone.  You’re in my daily thoughts and prayers,  I pray that you go safely through your day. Everyday there is a day closer to your family. Their love and prayers surround you and guide you through.

As you start your day in the morning know I have you in my thoughts. Praying that you find comfort knowing that you are not forgotten. 

Praying the Lord watches over you keeping you safe and warm.

In Jesus name I pray… ♡

Please continue to pray for the women in PFC and other prisons we visit. Also, I’d ask you say a short prayer of thanks for Diella and her courage by putting some simple thoughts into powerful words for these isolated women.  It brightened their day!

 Tiago