Yesterday I went to jail. It was the first time I’ve visited a prison in years, and I really enjoyed it. There is a state prison in a little town ten miles south of here where I’ve been asked to go regularly to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. Yesterday about 12 of the prisoners came to receive the Sacrament of Penance, and I was very much impressed by each of them.
My conversations with them reminded me of the conversations I used to have with men dying of AIDS when I was at our parish in Houston, in that part of the city where there is a concentration of homosexuals and where AIDS is prevalent. In both these cases, the men admitted to me very honestly and openly: this situation (in one case, AIDS; in the other, imprisonment) has done me a great deal of good. If it were not for this, I might be either dead now, or still pursuing the kind of life that would lead to the loss of my soul. And so they see God’s goodness and love working even in the evil of fatal illness and incarceration. On the night before he died, one of our AIDS-stricken parishioners was visited by a friend of his from the parish. As she was leaving his hospital room, she said to him, “Richard, do you think it would appropriate for us to pray?” Richard, who had become a devout Catholic and was totally resigned to dying at the age of about 36, smiled at her and said, “Prayer is always appropriate.” He died a few hours later.
The men who came to me yesterday obviously thought that prayer and the Sacrament of Penance are appropriate to their situation. I’ll be celebrating Mass for them soon. I ask your prayers for them, that when they leave prison they will remember what they have learned in jail and make of their future lives something constructive, noble, and holy. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.