“I am a person deprived of my liberty and I live in a jail in Mexico City,” E. writes to me. “When the sun rises over the horizon and his rays begin to light up the earth, what was once dark, obscure and scary receives light, and the cold and empty fields transform into a warm countryside. This is the power of God. When God shines in our lives, everything that at one time was perceived as negative can be seen as an occasion to grow. Where confusion reigned, comprehension takes its place; our doubts dissolve and become certainty. Our hate is transformed into love.”
It is a marvelous description of what it means to live in prison while recognizing the presence of God. Normally, we think of prison as a place where one has an anticipated experienced of death. For many inmates, in fact, life, which was once considered beautiful, is transformed into a constant state of fear. And we understand that, when one has fear of living, everything begins to go bad. Fear makes us inhuman.
The greatest question is: are we what we do, which would mean that we identify fully with our evil? Or our dignity is rooted in something deeper, that not even our actions, especially our wrong ones, can blot out?
“There’s no doubt about the fact that each person lives in jail as he wants to live it, and I, in these years, have gotten rid of many prejudices. I lost many things, but I have also gained many things. In jail, not everything is bad: I came close to God and I learned to love others. The problem that comes with a sentence is not the years that they give you for your crime, but rather the opportunity that you lose.” Through these words, paradoxically, I understand that prison can be the road that takes one back home; it can represent the long journey that leads to the real roots of one’s self, the place where one discovers the meaning of life.
“Here, there are persons who want to be better men and it is not impossible, even in this pace of so much darkness, that one can be a small flame capable of illuminating many others.” Despite the evil committed, we can discover, as the author of this letter has discovered, that the method of God is to make Himself a pilgrim who seeks out fallen man in order to renew him. “I learned to help others. I have a group of vulnerable persons that I help: I give them a hand obtaining medicine, or cleaning their cell. I send their clothes to the wash, sometimes, I cook something special for them, I take them for a walk or I read to them.”
Fear cannot hold back the initiative of God towards the man who has fallen. It’s as if God, through the smallest and most insignificant action, wanted to say to them: “You do not recognize me and probably you have denied me, but I am here within these walls. And I am here for you: I look upon you, I love you. This prison that you despise, I am giving it to you in order that your wounds may heal and that a new humanity can blossom within you.”
(David Crespo is parochial vicar of Mary Immaculate, in Mexico City. He is pictured with some young men of the parish.)