1988 April 29 – 6th Sun Easter (Prison Writings)
Jn 15, 9 – 17
“WE CAN HAVE NO GREATER LOVE THAN TO LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OUR FRIENDS.
“Jn. 5: 13
This verse from this week’s Gospel is at the core of the Gospel message. Life is a mystery that can’t be kept. It is a fleeting thing – here today, gone tomorrow: Temporary and finite; its meaning comes from its use. We are made to serve, to give to others. Life’s fulfillment is found in the other. In the natural order this process is played out within the family and clan. Parents know well its cost. A parent loves a child unconditionally. They are literally willing to lay down their lives for their children. In the long run, that is exactly what they do. Jesus pushed this natural understanding to its ultimate extension. He called for a nonexclusive, all-inclusive love, friend and foe, loved one and stranger alike. He taught by example, for when we were still separated from his Father’ s graces, he laid down his Iife for us. Today he asks us to do the same, no small order not very practical in his time nor ours… oh, but. what rewards!
88 04 29
DIESEL THERAPY. This is the term used to describe the transportation process within the Federal Prison System. The transporting of prisoners from one facility to the next is no small matter. At any given time there are a few thousand prisoners in transit in the Federal System. The process has been know-n to take up to a couple of months. The routes are rarely direct. I talked to some people who were in transit for a couple of months – crisscrossing the entire country before they reached their final destination. While in transit, all private property is taken away from you, your mail rarely catches up with you. You’re usually kept in a holding cell without the basic privileges of the normal prison population no commissary, no recreation and no work assignment. Depending on where you are, you might not have access to a phone. Though the prison officials deny it, being put in transit is often used as a disciplinary action.
I was very lucky. It only took me fifteen days to get to my final destination, the Federal prison camp in Marion, Illinois, just outside the walls of Marion prison. There are six levels of Federal prisons. A Level 1 prison is the lowest level secur1ty prison in the system. They are called “camps “. That is the level I have been assigned. There is only one Level Six prison in the whole system and it is here in Marion. It took the place of Alcatraz. More on the prison and the camp in later letters. I spent my first seven days at the Douglas County Jail in Omaha. On Wednesday, April 20th I was taken from my cell at 7 a.m. All my possessions were taken from me, my stamps, correspondence, books and, writing materials. Even the paper on which I had my addresses and phone numbers were taken away and sent back to St. Anne’s. I was put on an, eight-person turbo jet plane with, four other prisoners and three U.S.Marshalls and flown to EI Reno, Oklahoma. This eight-person jet was confiscated by the Federal Government in a drug case.
The El Reno Federal Prison is a major holding center for (in transit) federal prisoners. It is a level 2 and 3 prison with its own prison camp attached to the outside. There are about 1200 prisoners in the facility with, an average of 300 prisoners awaiting transport. I was placed in a special holding cell for Level One prisoners, about 40 in all. We were locked up in one cell constantly. We were told this was done for our own safety. There was one phone which we could use – only by calling collect. There was little reading material, no commissary, a TV and playing cards. Our meals were brought into us. It was not an easy place to live.
Once folks found out I was a Catholic Priest many opened up to me, prisoners and guards alike. I heard the confession of one Spanish-speaking prisoner. He knew just enough English to confess his sins. One guard I talked to was a farmer who took the prison job to supplement his farming income. Oklahoma is a depressed state that has been hit doubly hard with the rural crisis and the oil slump. This guard came from a German Catholic family of 11. From our conversation, he just as easily could have come from Shelby County.
I spent a week in El Reno. I was awakened at 2 a.m. on April 27th and processed with 96 other prisoners, driven to the airport and placed on a 727 jet. The first stop was Terre Haute, Indiana. I was let off the jet with 18 other inmates, put on a bus and driven to Marion, Illinois. Five of the inmates were taken to the main prison and the rest of us were taken to the camp. I have been at the camp two days now. I’m still in the orientation stage. Will write more next week