by Sr. Donna Liette, C.PP.S., Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation
“I wish I could afford to see my son, but they locked him up for a long time in Menard Prison, six hours away,” cried one mother. “When they send our children off, far from their family, they cause hardships to all of us. I just keep praying.”
Plans were put together for an annual trip to Menard Prison. On June 10th, 37 people, mostly mothers of sons who have been incarcerated for a long time in Menard Maximum Security Prison, boarded a bus and began a journey that would change lives forever. Soon family members would see their loved ones; it was over five years since one couple had been able to see their sons.
The questions being asked as they anxiously awaited the prison check-in and search were: “Do you have your two picture ids, are my clothes appropriate; do you have enough money to put on the food card?” Oscar, one of our pbmr youth, was one of those feeling some anxiety, since this was his first visit to a prison. When he got to the check-in window, he was refused a visit; while he had two IDs, they had just changed a rule and would not accept a college ID. His first response was not anger nor self-pity but sadness for Robert, the prisoner he was to visit.
First, we went off to the vending machines to purchase some non-jail food, which is one of the joys of the visit (The prisoners cannot go to the vending machines, of course). All the while, eyes are on the door: what will he look like; what will we say to one another; will he like the sandwich I picked out for him? There he is: now the long awaited hug from mother, dad or the loved one. There were tears, there was laughter and then to an assigned table to sit across from, not next to each other. We had two hours, so we kept watching the clock, hoping the guard was not aware of time!
Visits were over and we went back on the bus; it was quiet. It seemed everyone just wanted to remember the time there, and as one mother said, “I just want to hold on to the memory, to that hug, to my son’s voice saying, ‘Mom, I love you so much.’”
One family told of how their son asked them to forgive someone who was responsible for his very long sentence. The man had sent him a letter asking for his forgiveness and he passed it on to his parents and asked them to forgive the man as he had. The father wept and said he and his wife needed time but they were amazed and proud of their son. They knew he had been transformed and was not the same young man that came into the prison.
Oscar did get in to visit the second day; his friend Robert smiled during the whole visit. This was Robert’s first visit in 10 years and very soon he and Oscar, who were once far off, became close. Oscar kept saying, “What will I say for 2 hours…2 hours?” After the visit, he said the time went fast and he looks forward to visiting Robert again. Oscar closed his journal entry with these words, “I want to thank God for letting me on this trip and for opening my eyes. This is exactly what I needed.”
I asked one of the mothers if there was one word that would describe this whole journey and she said, “LOVE, UNCONDITONAL LOVE!” What a blessing is was for us to be a part of their journey of courage, faithfulness and long-suffering. I think we all needed this and none of us will be the same.