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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Anxious Parents

“Hello, thank you for your message, when you are in touch and see “my daughter”, I feel calmer.”

Sometimes, I believe, the families of the foreign women we meet in their prison have it the hardest.

Please pray for the anxious parents.

The Wise Owl

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!

 

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

Treacherous Nights (Noites Traiçoeiras)

The prisons in Brazil have their own culture as well.  For instance, it is very easy to get the men and women of the Brazilian prisons to sing their favorite songs in a large group.  They love to sing their most well-known songs.  One of their favorites is Noites Traiçoeiras.  It has become one of my favorites too.  You can watch and listen to the song on YouTube here: Noites Traiçoeiras

Listening to the melody and words you can understand why they this song means so much to them when we sing it.  It’s amazing when the whole cell of 25-30 men and or women erupts  with the third verse.

Below are the lyrics; first in Portuguese and the second in English.

Enjoy…Tiago

Noites Traiçoeiras

Deus está aqui neste momento
Sua presença é real em meu viver
Entregue sua vida e seus problemas
Fale com Deus, Ele vai ajudar você…

Uôôô… Deus te trouxe aqui
Para aliviar
Os teus sofrimentos…
Uôôô,… É Ele o autor da fé
Do princípio ao fim
De todos os seus momentos

Uô, uô,… e ainda se vier
Noites traiçoeiras
Se a cruz pesada for
Cristo estará contigo
E o mundo pode até fazer você chorar.
Mas Deus te quer sorrindo

Seja qual for o seu problema
Fale com Deus, Ele vai ajudar você…
Após a dor vem a alegria
Deus é amor Ele não te deixará sofrer…

Uôôô… Deus te trouxe aqui
Para aliviar
Os teus sofrimentos…
Uôôô… É Ele o autor da fé
Do princípio ao fim
De todos os seus momentos

Uô, uô,… e ainda se vier
Noites traiçoeiras
Se a cruz pesada for
Cristo estará contigo
E o mundo pode até fazer você chorar.
Mas Deus te quer sorrindo

Treacherous Nights

God is here at this moment
His presence is real in my life
Turn your life and worries over to Him
Talk to God, He’s going to help you

God brought you here
To relieve your suffering
He’s the author of faith
From the beginning to the end
For all of your torment

And even though the treacherous nights come
If the cross is heavy, Christ will be with you
The things in the world can even make you cry
But God wants you to smile

Whatever your problem
Talk to God , he’s going to help you
After the pain happiness comes
Because God is love and won’t let you suffer

God brought you here
To relieve your suffering
He’s the author of Faith
From the beginning to the end
For all of your torment

And even though the treacherous nights come
If the cross is heavy, Christ will be with you
The things in the world can even make you cry
But God wants you to smile

Shared Grief by Angela

(Tiago’s note–This is the fourth (and the second for Angela) 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, Angela shares the story of a recent death in the prison and how the women shared the grief in order to help them make sense of it all.  Please think about and pray for the deceased woman, the author “Angela,” and the other women in prisons throughout the world.  Let’s ask Him to provide them with the sense of togetherness that will help get through their own trials.)

A week ago we said, “Goodbye” to one of our country mates from South Africa.  It came as a very big shock to all of us.  Two days before, her cellmate had to carry her to Saúde (Health Clinic) because she suffered from asthma and could not breathe.  From there, she was transferred to the prison hospital where she passed away.

It was a very sad weekend for all of us.  I know that not only for me but for all of us, our thoughts were with our loved ones, thinking that if anything should happen (to us) there are no last goodbyes.  We are all so far away from our families.

On the next Tuesday, we all got together with our consulate to pay our last respects to her.  It was heartbreaking but the unity of everybody present was overwhelming and the togetherness of all the different cultures were all that some needed.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her parents and family who lost a special person in such horrible circumstances.

God bless you!

Angela

Pink…and Green by Winona

(Tiago’s note–This is the third 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, Winona tells a little bit about her experience and what keeps her strong. Please think about and pray for Winona and the other women who write these reflections.  Let’s ask God to provide them with the strength needed to finish this painful and lonely Passeio.)

Hello, my name is Winona.  I am a middle-aged woman from the Netherlands.  I was arrested last year together with my boyfriend.  We have been together for almost 3 years now!  We were arrested for drug-trafficking, so we are both now in prison.  To be here is not easy and can be very hard but I’ll have to keep strong!

I miss my boyfriend a lot, same as my family and his parents!  But luckily I’ve got four good friends here from South Africa.  Also the letters from my boyfriend keep me strong and the letters from our families too.  And of course my faith in God and my prayers helps me to get through this!

From Monday till Friday I work, but its hard work, but it keeps me busy, and every Saturday I look forward to see the missioners and Pastoral Carcerária members (who visit us) to talk with them and this also keeps me strong!

We hope and pray that our sentence will not be that long so that we can go back home soon and see our families again!

But I know God is with us.

Kind Regards,

Winona