This is the kind of place where Ashley Smith died in 2007. It is also the kind of place where Julie Bilotta gave birth on a cement floor last year.
It’s the place where prisons send people to punish the already imprisoned.
I’m writing with pencil and paper from a solitary confinement cell in the segregation unit – the “Hole” – at the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC), a maximum security provincial prison in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Here we spend 23.5 hours a day or more locked in an eight-by-twelve-foot cell. We are allowed nothing but one religious book and a pencil and paper, in addition to our prison-issue clothes (but no shoes) and toiletries (disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of soap, a towel). We get access to the yard – a large caged balcony – for 20 minutes a day, and a shower every second day. On alternating days we’re allowed a 20-minute phone call.
When I went to prison, in 1987, Motorola manufactured the large, gray cellphone that I used. People referred to it as “the brick.” It had the capacity to send or receive phone calls, but there wasn’t any text messaging back then.
I also had a pager, but it could only transmit digits, as I recall. I had a personal computer manufactured by IBM with a DOS operating system that I didn’t really understand and 40 megabytes of memory. I was told that was a big deal. I linked the computer to an Epson dot-matrix printer, and I remember the perforated paper fed through on a track system that easily derailed. It was a hassle.
Technology has changed considerably during the 25 years that I served. I read extensively during my term of incarceration, but reading about technology felt a bit like reading about typing. Regardless of how much I read, I wouldn’t grasp the power of technology until I started using it. Forget the power, I don’t even understand the language of technology. For example, I never understood what people meant when they spoke of a “browser.” In fact, I just asked my wife to define a browser, and when she described it as a program that would allow me to access the Internet, I gave her a blank stare.
“But I thought the browser was the little text box on top of the screen, where I type in what I’m looking to find on Google.”
“No honey,” she said. “That’s the URL bar.”
Francesco Schettino ‘cried like a baby,’ says Costa Concordia chaplain
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE JANUARY 20, 2012
ROME – The captain of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship “cried like a baby” as he hugged its chaplain hours after the luxury liner crashed into the island of Giglio, the priest said in an interview Friday.
Interviewed by French magazine Famille Chretienne, Father Raffaele Malena said he was among the last to leave the ship at around 1:30 am (0030 GMT) on Saturday and then stayed “close to the injured” in the tiny harbour of Giglio.
“I descended on the rope ladder. I was picked up by a little lifeboat,” said Malena, who has returned to his village of Ciro Marina in Calabria.
“At around 2:30 a.m. I spoke to the captain (Francesco Schettino). He embraced me and cried like a baby for about a quarter of an hour,” Malena said.
Schettino is accused of multiple manslaughter, abandoning a ship and causing a shipwreck and faces several years in prison if he is found guilty.
Many witnesses have said that he was sailing far too close to Giglio in a show-off manoeuvre and struck submerged rocks close to the Tuscan island.
He has admitted to making a mistake but said that following the impact he steered the vessel to save as many people as possible, according to a leaked transcript of his interrogation by prosecutors on Tuesday.
The 73-year-old chaplain, who has worked for Costa for around 20 years, praised the bravery of crew members amid panic during the evacuation.
“There were heroes of all nationalities… They were shaking with fear. They were threatened. They were telling people to stop boarding lifeboats which were full but people were getting in anyway,” he said.
The Catholic priest said he was also angry at some of the passengers, “who are going to sue because they have lost 30, 40 or 50,000 euros in jewels.”
“Me, I defend the weak. Not the rich and the billionaires,” he added.
The priest said he went to pray for a few moments in the ship’s chapel before leaving the ship.
“Baby Jesus was still in his manger. I told him, crying like a child: ‘We are all about to die. I’m asking you for nothing short of a miracle. Please let as few people die as possible!'”
© Copyright (c) AFP
Pope visits prisoners, says poor conditions amount to ‘double sentence’ : News Headlines – Catholic CulturePosted: January 17, 2012
Pope visits prisoners, says poor conditions amount to ‘double sentence’
December 19, 2011
From Our Store: The Documents of the Second Vatican Council: A Summary and Guide (eBook)
During a December 18 visit to the Rebbiba prison in northern Rome, Pope Benedict XVI told inmates that overcrowding in jails and poor conditions often mean a “double sentence” for convicted criminals.
Prisoners should be treated with dignity in all cases, and the penal system should be designed to rehabilitate criminals and help them re-enter society, the Pope said. He said that changes are need to fill the “chasm between what life in jail is really like and how it was intended by the law.”
The Pope reminded the inmates that visiting the imprisoned has always been recognized by the Church as a corporal work of mercy. He emphasized that this should mean not only dropping in on a prisoner but “making space for him in our time, in our home, in our friendships, in our laws, in our cities.” The same attitude should motivate prison officials, he said. He suggested exploring new ways of protecting society and rehabilitating criminals, including alternative sentencing and “non-custodial” terms.
After speaking to the assembled prisoners, the Holy Father took a series of questions from the group. When one inmate complained that HIV-positive prisoners are regularly addressed “aggressively” by the guards, the Pope urged him to maintain a positive attitude. “We have to endure the fact that people speak about us ‘aggressively,’” he said. “They also speak ‘aggressively’ about the Pope, yet nonetheless he perserveres.”
When another prisoner asked why he should confess his sins to a priest rather than directly to God, the Pope said that of course God would forgive any sinner who genuinely repents. “However,” he continued, “sin is not only a ‘personal’ thing, an individual account between me and God. Sin also has a social dimension. … And it is this social dimension of sin that needs to be absolved at the level of the human community, the community of the Church.”
Blog of the Moderator of the United Church of Canada
Posted on: 09/23/2008 15:29
Visiting Jesus in Jail
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Lloyd Bruce, the Protestant Chaplain at Springhill Institution in Nova Scotia was waiting for us at security. Nearly a year ago, I met Lloyd in Wallace, N.S. He gave me a delicate little wooden cross on a silver chain and invited me to visit Springhill. Last week, along with a few others, I did.
Springhill is a medium security institution. Most of the inmates are serving lengthy sentences up to and including life. Like most prisons in Canada Springhill is stretched well beyond the inmate population capacity for which it was built. The primary building materials are concrete and rebar. The colourless paint is chipped and ancient. It was built in the town of Springhill as an economic boost after the mine closed there in the late 1950s.
We emptied our pockets into a locker. Signed in. Passed through the metal detector and then two sets of electric barred doors.
We visited “St Luke’s” a retreat house built within the walls of the prison with volunteer and church support. It is an oasis in the midst of a desert of hostility and stress. Inmates, deemed sufficiently trustworthy, can come to the retreat house for a day or several days to rest, meditate or join in programs.
Next we made our way to the chapel. It bears little resemblance to the east-coast white-board churches beyond the walls but it too is clearly a sanctuary amidst the grind of prison life. There were about 30 inmates and volunteers seated in a circle. Chairs were quickly added so our group could join. I chose a seat beside one of the roughest looking characters in the room. A big guy, bandana, 3-day-beard, earring, tattoos. Turns out he’s a preacher and volunteer.
The “Kairos Marathon” was underway. The program has been around since the mid 1960s. Kairos means something like “an opportune time and/or place” ““ God’s time and place. The Marathon refers to the 26 hours straight the program lasts. Inmates sleep in their cells but otherwise remain in an intense, alternately playful and gut-wrenching, truth-telling circle in chapel.
“It’s like this. If you pick up the ball it means you are going to talk about what is happening in your life.” Turns out it’s a metaphorical ball. We visitors found ourselves scanning the room for it. “The others listen and hold you to the truth.” Some inmates and volunteers come again and again, in search of peace, healing and forgiveness. The young man to my left clutched a pillow to his chest with long bare arms and rocked in his chair.
“Do you want to say or ask anything?” Maybe it was the young guy to my left but the first question that came to mind was, “Is anyone here for the first time?” He raised his hand. So did another younger inmate across the circle. The mix of courage and desperation it must take to get to the Kairos Marathon for the first time humbled me. I told them that. I promised the two first timers that I would be praying for them over the next 26 hours.
I took the chance to tell them about the cross Lloyd had given me and described some of the places it had been since – across Canada, Columbia, Nicaragua. Told them I wanted to thank the man who had made it. Heads turned toward Jeff, a lanky guy with shoulder-length grey hair. He laughed, “It’s been a lot more places than I have.” Before we left the chapel Jeff and I had our picture taken together.
The last stop on our tour was nearby “Spring House” which provides inexpensive accommodation and extravagant hospitality to wives, children, parents and friends who travel to visit husbands, fathers, children and friends at the prison.
Jesus said, “”I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mtt. 25.26b). I felt presence of Christ at the Springhill Institution.
Two stories in the news since then: 1. The “get tough on crime” agend has entered the campaign jargon even though there has been a steady decrease in violent crime in Canada; and 2. In the US an incarceration milestone has been passed ““ 1 in 100 Americans are now in jail.