Winter 2011, Vol. 4, No.1 (click for pdf)
Oh baby, love, my baby love I need you, oh how I need you—Diana Ross
Turning Your Own Key
When I look back and take an honest assessment of myself in terms of standing on my own two feet—I’d have to say that I’ve been fully dependent on others. From my earliest memory—someone has housed and fed me. During my early childhood it was my mother who provided for me. Then, from the age of 10-13, a series of temporary foster homes/group homes sheltered me. From early teens (14 years old) until I was 40—I’ve been sheltered, clothed, and fed by institutions, such as St. Michael’s, St. Gabe’s and Vision Quest, or prisons—state and county—or by the many women who’ve entered into dysfunctional relationships with me.
As an adult, there have been a few periods when I was responsible for paying my own way, but lacking a foundation for being self-reliant and being an addict, I soon found myself overwhelmed and looking for someone to take care of me. Looking back, I realize this happened again and again without my even thinking about it. My being dependent upon others seemed as natural and acceptable to me as dependence on heroin.
I didn’t know I was obsessed until it stopped. (Anthony) There are tears in the eyes of this 41 year old guy who sees through nonsense with his blue eyes and describes himself as not very religious “until I took a knee at a church in South Philly and then kept doing so at daily mass,” he tells me. “I substituted one ritual for another, Father,” Anthony explains in his offhanded way. “See, I used to shoot myself up with heroin every morning for fifteen years.” He holds open his arms to show me the dark spots from his punctured veins.
Serving as a Catholic chaplain in the Philadelphia Prison with its 8000 plus inmates, I hear a lot of ‘confessions.’ It is humbling to hear these men and women tumble out their sins as I sit across from them at a metal table in the cellblock. Holding their hands, I pray with them. At the same time I am struck at how their stories need to be heard by others. The wrongdoings yes, but about the dysfunctional families they grew up in also. The lack of fathering/mothering. The poverty. The lostness and sense of unworthinesss. About how they are being found as well, in of all places–a prison! These are God’s daughters and sons too, and they are being found by the Good Shepherd. If them, why not us?
Click here to read the entire Voices From Prison newsletter.
Spring greetings from all of us at Adeodatus! How terrific to feel the sun’s warmth after this winter of snowstorms and rain. If you have a moment, grab a chair and read this letter from a Kensington guy named “Joey.” His tale of growing up on the streets, without much parental presence or love, is the story of many young people today. Think of the recent “flash mobs.” The number of high-risk children of the incarcerated is a national problem. 5,000 children in Philadelphia have at least one parent in jail today. Joey, whose four year old son’s name is tattooed on his arm, calls out with a cry for all of these young people. His father was missing as Joey is now for his son! Will you listen to him, maybe put yourself in his place? Then put yourself in his son’s place: Where is my daddy?
Click here to download Voices From Prison – Issue #6
“Dance me to the children who are asking to be born.” -Leonard Cohen
See, I will not forget you, for I have carved you on the palm of my hand.
(tattoo on the palm of an inmate… from Isaiah 49:15).
Rose, stripped of my soul, I suffer without you. (tattoo on his throat).
Oh God, so many of your children are suffering behind bars. (1 in every 100 Americans). Many of these have caused others to suffer as well–people they have victimized, their own families, including wives, husbands, parents and children. The children and siblings of those in prison are six times more likely to wind up in prison themselves. Much of this is due to addictions. The effect of addictions spreads like cancer.
Show us how to stop this, please.
This issue of our newsletter focuses on addictions. Incarcerated people are not the only ones imprisoned. Many of us are addicted—to alcohol, drugs (including prescription meds and pain killers), sexual conquests, money/gambling, power and control. Even the obsessive use of technology. These “false gods” hold us captive. Wake us up, Father, to the prevalence of these fake fixes in our families and ourselves. Show us how to take steps to heal this “spiritual disease” as it is called in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous The following story by “Cliff”could have been any of us…I’ll call it “Heroin, My Love.”
Our Springtime issue of Voices From Prison presents a story of how God is acting in the lives of people in prison. It is often a case of despair to realize that so many of our citizens are in jail (1 in 100), especially our Black people. How can it be that we settle on building more and more jails instead of schools? How can it be that so many of our young people are caught up in a world of drugs and guns? How can it be that there is so little rehabilitation that goes on in prison? Yet, in all our questioning, it is equally obvious that God is alive in prison, moving people to amazing transformations. Like St. Augustine’s Confessions, this story of God’s action needs to be told so we can hope.
Download: Voices From Prison – Issue #3
Love and hope,
Fr. Paul and the Adeodatus group
“I was in prison and you visited me.”
Voices From prison
Father Paul Morrissey O.S.A. and George Munyan, co-editors
A newsletter from adeodatus prison ministry
Autumn 2008, Vol. 1, No. 2
In the past two years I have had the privilege of baptizing three young men in prison. What is astounding to me–a prison chaplain–is that each of these men brought another one to me for this sacrament. God is using prison inmates to spread his word; that’s how desperate he is. After his baptism, the first inmate, “Dominic” (21 years old), brought his cellmate “Billy” (28) to receive instructions and be baptized. A few months later, Billy brought “Sebastian” (25) whom I baptized this past September. In preparation for his baptism, I asked Sebastian to write down in his own words its meaning for him. His story below touched me deeply and is a sure sign that God is alive and active in prison.
-Fr. Paul Morrissey, O.S.A.
Amazing Grace: What Baptism Means To Me
When I was young, my parents spoke to me about Jesus Christ often…but never to help me build a relationship with him. These “talks” were usually brief and relayed to me as if Christianity was important…but I had no real help in understanding Christianity, building a relationship with Christ, or even the importance of what he has done for us. We never read the Bible as a family. Church only occurred once in awhile and I did not have the patience for it. Basically, the seed was planted but I never had help growing it into a tree.
By the age of 13, I gave up on any sound understanding of Christ and decided to go my own way. I began abusing drugs and alcohol, committing crimes, and severely disrespecting my mother. I was thrown out of every school they put me in and became so unruly that my own mother feared me. Due to this behavior, I found myself in juvenile group homes and residential facilities. I would behave perfectly until a place would ask my mother if she wanted me back. She would say “no,” and I would act out so severely the place would throw me out and send me somewhere worse. I caught criminal charges in some places. I remained incarcerated until I was 18.
It never helped me and I continued with the drugs, fights, and from time to time…suicidal tendencies. I was released to the streets on a path of destruction…always feeling as if something was missing and not knowing what. Feeling empty and alone. By this point, my father was saved and spoke to me about how he renewed his relationship with Christ, how to gain a relationship for myself, and the importance of having one. I wasn’t trying to hear any of it. I wish I had. Within a matter of months, I was back in jail. I began to pray to be saved and began reading the Bible. I didn’t necessarily embrace things as I should have though. When things got hard, I blamed it on God and Christianity.
Christ of Maryknoll icon by Robert Lentz who states, “This icon of Christ does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is He imprisoned or are we?”
My father bluntly told me that he feared for my soul. I also began reading things that “discredited” and rejected Christianity. I even went so far as to become a minister of an anti-Christian, White Supremacist, Church. (I have been a skinhead since the age of 13.) I got into a lot of fights with gangs and was in and out of jail. It was a dangerous time period, since we were outnumbered and made the gangs angry with our tendencies toward violence.
In December of 2007, my life began to change. I started to realize I was out of control and began to doubt that my life style or peers were beneficial. I began speaking to my parents about coming home to Pennsylvania. At this point I had progressed from alcohol to IV drugs. Needless to say, I soon found myself back in jail. Also, something new happened. I realized that being saved does not make everything miraculously perfect. I began praying constantly…at times with so much emotion that I cried.
On May 13th, I was lying in my bed and the song “Amazing Grace” came to me. My mother used to sing this song to me as a small child…and as I sang it to myself, meditating on the words, I began to cry. I poured my heart out to Jesus…my struggles, my sins, my guilt, my feelings…everything. Then, I begged to be saved. It hasn’t been long since I’ve been saved, but I know in my heart that I want to commit myself to Christ for life. I’ve truly been blessed to make it this far in life. To have a mother and father who love me and are there to support me. To be in jail, yet remain safe, fed, clothed…and even free in Christ our Savior. In him I have truly filled the void.
A brief reflection
Have you ever been saved like this? Do we have to go to prison to know our need for God and each other? Some of these men pray the rosary together in their cells. Others read the Bible together. It is not too late to start doing so with someone you love. It could be one of your young adult children or your spouse. It could be a boyfriend or girlfriend. It could be someone in your religious community or a friend. Sebastian had a father who told him, “I fear for your soul.” It is striking that this relationship with his father seemed to draw his son back to a real relationship with Jesus that filled his emptiness. We need people like this in our lives. Let us hear from you how your restlessness is opening you up for a real relationship—with God and others.How to get Involved
ADEODATUS PRISON MINISTRY
Spiritual Support Group
P.O. Box 40815, Phila., Pa 19107
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish School
1719 Morris St., Phila., Pa. 19145
Wednesday evenings, 7:30- 9 P.M.
Voices from Prison: A newsletter of Adeodatus Prison Ministry
Father Paul Morrissey O.S.A. and
George Munyan, co-editors
Issue #1–Summer 2008
Christ has always used prisons to speak to us: in the cells of imperial Rome, the dungeons of the French Revolution, the prisons of communist China, and in our own prisons. Presently, 1 in every 100 United States’ citizens is incarcerated, a greater number and percentage than any other country in the world. Prisons are not always worlds of walls and iron bars, but they are trapped moments in time where the Lord speaks. What follows is a story by James as told to his chaplain…
Christ of Marynoll icon by Robert Lentz who states, “This icon of Christ does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is He imprisoned or are we?”
“LACE ’EM UP”
As a child I seemed to have an inattentive style to everything. In other words I did things my way. As I went to school in a Catholic grade school, I seemed to keep hearing the same thing…”Be a leader, not a follower”. So I tried to lead, to be a good athlete, as well as part of a family. I seemed to only excel at sports, leaving behind being a leader and a member of a family. Then one day, around nine or ten years old, I came home to see a new inscription framed on the wall going up the steps. The inscription read—“James: Following the Lord”. WOW!!! Up until this point in my life I really hadn’t known the Lord. So, being the rebellious natured boy that I was, I threw on the sneaks and started running. I didn’t even bother to tie the laces, nor did I look what direction I was going.
The devil starts early. I began to pick every wrong path to run down, only to have to retreat back. Within the same period of simple advances and retreats, I came across my Church’s Priest. He put his hand on my head and said I was to be a priest as he was one day. Hearing this I began to think of how I could get away from this ‘sentence’. Soon after I was becoming more reckless and eventually I directly stole from the novena candle donation box. I had crossed over and was moving on my own juice, thinking I was on my own. As a young adult in high school and college, I continued to make the wrong choices. I continuously tripped over my undone laces, from selling some drugs to support my drug habit to fighting with my girlfriends and others over ridiculous things. All the while I never realized that He was still looking over me.
In the blink of an eye I was an adult still running on my own juice, now with the laces practically out of my shoes. I was pretty much falling over my laces, yet something kept me from falling on my face. Jobs came and went, people came and were gone, and drug addiction had settled in. the distance I thought I had put between myself, and this ‘calling’ that was put upon me as a kid, was not what I thought. He had never left me.
But now I was scrambling around with no goals in sight, except self-destruction. My addiction was through the roof and my social characteristics were gone. The antisocial had set up camp and was continuously growing. I was only leaving my apartment to cop drugs and the will of the devil.
Eventually, after crack abuse and spouts of heroin abuse, I ended up having a crucial blow dealt. I was diagnosed with HIV and Hep-C. Now talk about a sentence. Is this life or death? So I decided to choose a life of death. I used until I had fallen on my face so hard that I left an impression in the ground. So let me paint this picture for you. I am at Curran Fromhold Correction Facility in Philadelphia…
I needed the Lord now more than ever and had to make a decision. And I did. That decision took me from the labyrinth of death and dismay to the straight and narrow path toward GOD. Eventually I was given a new pair of laces from GOD. I laced them up, tightened them and began to run a new race in a new direction—towards GOD the Father.
A Brief Reflection…
Wow! What an amazing story! And this from a young man in prison! As the chaplains remind the inmates often, God loves to break through cinder blocks, barbed wire and our calloused hearts to reach us.
James tells us how he was running away from God since he was a kid. He reminds us of Jonah and St Augustine. In fact, this newsletter hopes to practice what Augustine did long ago in the book of his Confessions. When God finally was able to reach his restless heart, Augustine wrote down his journey so that others could discover how God is active in their lives as well.
As you read James’ story, what strikes you? If you were to write your story down, what similarities or differences would you have? Have you ever rebelled? Did God’s call to you, whatever it is, ever make you run? Did you ever turn around? What did it take for you to do this? We hope to hear from you. Keep the inmates, especially James, and us in your prayers.