Even though Holy Week took place many months ago, I still want to share with you the great experience I had with the prisoners inside Sur, a prison in Mexico City.
First of all, I would like to mention the dedication of various volunteers, coordinated by one of our parishioners. They offered their friendship as they prepared the prisoners for the sacrament of confession and listened to some of their life stories. I was amazed by the quantity of people who I confessed, many of whom were experiencing for the first time the closeness of God in their lives. The weight of all the evil that they had committed needed to be met and forgiven. They needed to rediscover that their life, after 5, 10, or 15 years in prison, still had a sense and a purpose. I recognized that I was really the instrument of divine forgiveness as I watched, again and again, their eyes become luminous. They recognized that no profound desire in them can be canceled, and that even in prison it is possible to be loved, not for what they do or what they did, but for who they are. When you begin to understand this original dignity of life, nobody can take it away from you. In the following days in the prison, in fact, many of them came to greet and talk with us. Perhaps some of them expected something in return; however, the fact that they returned to talk with us was a sign that something new had entered into their lives.
Dormitory number 6 is where the “special” prisoners sleep. Oscar, for example, doesn’t even have a bed. He is in prison because he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car. He didn’t hurt anyone, but damaged some State property. And since he didn’t have $200,000 pesos to pay the damages (which is literally a fortune considering that minimum wage in Mexico is $70) he was arrested. While he was confined in prison, his whole family died in a car accident. Now he doesn’t have anyone. He earns a few pesos singing for people during the “visiting days”. That small collection, normally is not enough to survive, especially because every day he must pay the prison guard the lista, a kind of illegal tax. He celebrated his birthday during Holy Week. He is a young kid who knows the hardness of life, and his tough character shows it. However, that day he confessed and cried enough to make up for all the times he hadn’t cried during those four years in prison.
Towards the end I asked Cecelia, the responsible of the volunteers, for a few chocolates which I gave to Oscar as a birthday gift. When we had finished the Holy Mass, we sang “Las Mañanitas”, the Mexican version of Happy Birthday, and he smiled. I haven’t seen a smile like that in a long time, dominated by the discovery that it is possible, even in that place, to be loved. That day Oscar didn’t work much, and therefore was not able to pay the 10 pesos for the lista. He knew what to expect that night from the guard who would give him a chinga, a beating. Nevertheless, he gave me a piece of candy he had acquired, who knows how or with what money. “And the lista?” I asked him. “Father, seriously don’t worry. It has been the happiest birthday that I have ever had, and this joy cannot be taken away by anyone.” In that moment, I realized that his desire to be loved was no different than mine, and that Jesus had become present for both of us.
It was extraordinary to be able to celebrate Holy Thursday in the dormitory of sick prisoners, imitating the gesture of Jesus for the first time. To contemplate the maltreated and dirty feet of those men, and to arrive to the point of kissing them, made me think of how low Jesus had plunged in order to touch me. The awareness of Jesus’s humility gave me the freedom and the joy to stay in front of them. The following day, I celebrated The Way of the Cross in the dormitory of those with drug addictions, and seeing other faces affected by solitude and the pains of a life lived for passing pleasures, allowed me to live the experience of Jesus who comes and suffers, giving his life for each one of them, and for each one of us.
David Crespo, priest since June 2016, is in mission in Mexico City. Above, are some parishioners of Santa Maria Inmaculada.