Yesterday, I hurried off to mass to secure 8 consecrated hosts, so that I could bring them with me to the prayer service I was leading at the correctional facility that afternoon. Success! It was Palm Sunday, and I made sure to make a couple of palm crosses too, so I could place them on the makeshift altar that I set up for every visit. Got there right on time, and just as I was signing in, the officer stopped me and said, “We’re actually on facility lockdown right now…all day.” Major bummer.
Walked right back to my car, and sure enough, it started raining. Yeah, like, “gray cloud, sad day” raining. Since I had all of that Jesus with me, I decided to have a mini prayer service in my car, in the jail parking lot – I figured, this was meant for them, so I’d might as well maintain the prayers by proximity (if that’s possible?). Such a bummer. Feeling uninspired, I opened the Bible to a random page, and it opened to Psalm 27. It read:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” – Psalm 27:1
I consumed the hosts, and was grateful for an uplifting and reassuring mantra to guide me through the rest of the day. I figured, well, I’m visiting again, so hopefully tomorrow will be a better day and I’ll get to share Passion Sunday with the women. Just a day late!
Flash forward to this evening. As I drove over to the facility and walked on in, I kept thinking to myself: “I hope it’s a go…I hope it’s a go…” Welp, sure enough, the officer stopped me just as I was slipping my ID into the tray, and she said it would be another 30 minutes. Could I wait? I thought to myself for 15 seconds…and did an external processing situation with the officer as to whether or not I should wait it out (she was super nice and kind in listening to me…laughed a bunch too!)…and I decided to stay. I went to my car, decided to bust out the Bible again and get some inspiration for the evening. Read through Psalm 27 again…
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1
I walked back in (def did not wait the entire 30 minutes), got the OK, gathered my materials, and I was in the unit. I set up my altar off to the side, and after 25 minutes, some of the women were released for their free time…no. one. came. I greeted a few of them, but no one came. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I’m here in case any one wants to join – no problem.” The officer notified the unit, “The chaplain is here – Catholic.” Still, no one. I said to myself, OK, if no one comes, I’m leaving in 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, one woman came, then four others.
We went through the “positive” experiences from the past week, and they went something like this: “Grateful to no longer be homeless,” “My son finally got affordable housing and we don’t have to be on the streets anymore,” “I repented.” There is so much pain here in this place. I wish I could describe it better, but I truly believe there is lots of space for gratitude too.
In terms of the readings, the Gospel was long this week. It made me nervous because I was like, uh oh…they’re gonna start zoning out! But yet they were so engaged in following the story of Jesus that led to his crucifixion. It was truly inspiring to have them contribute their thoughts and weave in their personal experiences, as they relate to the Stations.
After 40 minutes, it was already late and I had some one-on-ones, so I was packing up ready to go. But before that, I had the chance to pray with a couple of women at their cells. “OK, here we go…,” I thought to myself. Walking through the center of the unit was quite the experience in itself.
I prayed with one of the women at her door and our hands touched the glass between us. We prayed for her intentions and she was gracious. Another woman was going to be released shortly, and so we took time to pray with one another at her door. This will hopefully be the last time I see her here. With emotions running high, it was a blessed time and we got to chat a little bit about the transition that is to come for her and her family. Indeed, what a Holy Week this has started out to be.
Let me tell you…prayer is powerful. A unit which was usually muddled with shouting, loud noises, and unrest was so quiet in that span of prayer time spent at their doors. Wow. This experience was by far one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had, and it is truly a gift to be able to enter into these spaces and see Jesus within these walls.
“I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” – Psalm 27:13