Thursday, April 25, 2013

In prison

Today I went to prison with Padre German and about 45 people from the Dulce Nombre de María parish. We got to go home afterward, though.

The local prison has more than 600 prisoners – some who have gone to trial, some who haven’t.

I won’t go into the problems of the justice system and the prison system here in Honduras – which are shameful, full of corruption, and totally unjust. That’s another blog entry.

Santa Rosa de Copán’s Granja Penal is overcrowded, but not as badly as other prisons in Honduras, some of which have experienced severe fires and violent uprisings in the past few years.

It’s a relatively half-decent place to serve a term – or wait for a trial. But the prisoners – or, as people say here, those deprived of liberty – do not have an easy life. They have to find ways to buy basic necessities like toothpaste.

There is no state-sponsored work program here, that I know of. I see people weaving fish nets and hammocks and there are a few small crafts – earrings and necklaces; but the people have to seek an outside market. There is a carpentry shop, set up with Spanish aid and attended to by a Spanish Franciscan sister who lives down the street from me in Santa Rosa.

The diocese has a prison ministry, headed by a woman in Santa Rosa – unpaid, of course. But there is also a prison ministry within the prison. They have a choir and did all the readings for the Mass. I think they even are forming a base community there.

Each month a parish visits the prison – Matthew 25: 36 in action. A priest from the parish says Mass and the parish provides a meal for all those in prison!

Today was Dulce Nombre’s turn. Padre German came and celebrated Mass with those in prison and the visitors from the parish. A music group, Mensajeros de Amor – Messengers of Love -  came from the village of Oromilaca – a group that sings Christian ranchero music. They are quite good.

The parish brought tortillas, rice with chicken, a drink, and a banana for every one in the prison. Some women worked since last night to prepare the food. People from all the villages contributed about $25 per village for the costs. The poor provided for the poor.

Padre German gave a rousing, 17 minute homily – really speaking to everyone and encouraging those in prison to use the time as one for renewing their lives. (I had jokingly told him, before entering the prison that he shouldn’t speak more than 15 minutes. He told me that Guatemalans say that people are attentive to a 10 minute homily but with a 15 minute sermon the butt goes to sleep.)

After Mass and a few rollicking songs from Mensajeros de Amor, Padre German and others went to the smaller women’s section of the jail. The women had not been allowed to go to the Mass in the men’s section. Padre spoke, the Mensajeros de Amor sang, and they prayed. Padre German promised to come back for a prayer with the women and possibly a Mass.

He was a bit upset that the women had not had a chance to go to Mass. Another case of marginalization, he quietly said to me.

It was a moving experience, particularly during Mass when I looked at the mural on the wall of Jesus with men behind bars. The men, muscled and tattooed, were there beside Jesus.

During Mass, Padre German asked is this image looking in or looking out. He assured the men that Jesus was there with them. He talked about their situation but urged them to be really free – undeterred by the situation of imprisonment, free in their hearts.

He urged them to solidarity, to living good lives.

I left before everything was over, moved again by the suffering of the people here, but even more by the solidarity of the people from the parish who came to visit the imprisoned.

On a wall in the women’s section of the prison I saw a poster which read – deprived of liberty, but not of dignity.

I saw some of that today.

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