Uncaged Spirits

I spent my Saturday with twelve men in cages. It’s hard to imagine that in the United States, we put inmates in cages, but in the Secured Housing Unit of the prison where I volunteer, we do. In the SHU, inmates who are privileged to attend Catholic services are escorted from their housing to individual cages by two guards each. They are released from their handcuffs through a small food tray opening only after they are locked into the cage. Then the food tray is locked. The Eucharist is slipped through the slits in the grid of the cage. The sign of peace is merely a hand rested against the metal screen. No physical contact is allowed. On this special Saturday, the inmates were permitted to remain with us for seven hours for a retreat experience. They brought sack lunches of bologna sandwiches, apples, and cookies, like wary, overgrown schoolboys. They were allowed one bathroom break. And even though the ongoing noises of guards and gates and calisthenics washed through the room in continual waves, a deep sense of the presence of God gradually took hold of us. Five facilitators and twelve inmates shared meditations, writing time, prayer, reflection, healing, and Mass. We retreated from our surroundings into God’s hearty embrace. Inmates in the SHU have done some very bad things to get there, and they are used to being treated like monsters. No one expects any rehabilitation from them, much less any thought of redemption. They have been discarded even from prison. They are isolated, stigmatized, and stripped of individual identity. Yet they manage, against all likelihood, to hold onto some vestige of their human dignity as they turn to God in their time of trouble. No cage can keep God out. No heart can despair in the gentle glow of God’s love and forgiveness. ". . . the caged bird sings of freedom," wrote Maya Angelou. The caged man sings of the same. I have not attended a more moving, Spirit-filled retreat. "Why you want to come to prison?" asked R, from Cage 2. And I couldn’t tell him why. There’s no logical answer. Outside it was a beautiful day, and my family was at home. I don’t know why I spend time there. I only know that I’ve been called to walk with these men a piece.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 10 months ago
FYI...Here's a similar story about a couple, who happen to be Catholic, who have found fulfillment in their 12-year prison ministry. http://www.courant.com/community/news/en/hc-ctprisonvolunteers0907.artsep07,0,6944926.story
9 years 10 months ago
''Inmates in the SHU have done some very bad things to get there...''. Historically Christians have collectively spent a lot of time in jail. Think of Peter and Paul. Many early bishops were jailed and killed and sent to the lead mines to die- often by ''Christian'' emperors and or Arian (Jesus is only a man) rulers. Sometimes going to jail is demanded by the faith. The real crime is often staying out of jail!

Advertisement

The latest from america

A woman who told police that she and her family were from Sudan is taken into custody by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer after arriving in February 2017 by taxi and walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec. (CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters)
Canada is not innocent when it comes to immigration policies that have the potential to hurt individuals and divide families.
Dean DettloffJuly 13, 2018
In this June 6, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly attends a briefing on this year's hurricane season at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The private letter, sent more than a year ago, may have had changed Mr. Kelly’s mind for a time.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJuly 13, 2018
May the best team win. Actually, may Croatia win, argues Travis Timmons.
Travis Timmons July 13, 2018
A banner showing St. John Paul II hangs from a lamp pole in Krakow, Poland, as Pope Francis arrives to attend World Youth Day in 2016. Surveys show that Poland leads Europe, and the United States, in religious commitment. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
U.S. religious belief has been more resilient than in other modernized, affluent countries. Still, weekly churchgoing pales compared with Poland.
Stephen BullivantJuly 13, 2018