‘I was in prison...’
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
In Poland there are 60,000 places in prisons and 84,000 prisoners. 70,000 convicts are waiting for vacant places in prisons. These figures show the difficult and even dramatic picture of the Polish penitentiary system considering the fact that only people with valid sentences are sent to prison. Once I talked to a penitentiary judge who pronounced many such verdicts and I asked him, ‘Have you ever been to the prison?’ Once could see the expression of this man’s face, greatly astonished that he was asked such a question. He did not answer me. Certainly Lord Jesus knew what he was talking about when he identified himself with a man in prison, expressing his concern for him and his compassion for him. Naturally, for those who have had nothing to do with offences it is difficult to accept that. However, we should realise that in prisons there are also people whose consciences are not burdened with some serious crimes but some coincidence made them be there; knowing the latest history we also remember thousands of people who were imprisoned for their views, for opposing the binding ideology. The basis punishment prisoners get is their lack of freedom, which is symbolised by the prison bars as well as heavy metal doors with keys clinking in dark long corridors. And although it is continuously stressed that these people excluded themselves from the society and we are comforted that deprivation of liberty is connected with reclamation we know that sometimes this is not the case. Many a time a criminal deed has been caused by rashness, the lack of consideration or by someone’s instigation; sometimes by uncontrolled emotions, not forming your character and such a deed leads you to prison. I think that only then many convicts realise what they have done; they analyse what an offence means. They might have not thought about the consequences of their conducts. Therefore, there is a warning for all people: you must reflect on your lives and control them. Acting recklessly, light-heartedly you can be sent to prison and your conscience can be burdened with someone’s death, a family tragedy, for example in car crashes. People have no bad intentions but they commit crimes and must face judgement. Prisoners are always human beings and Christ identifies himself with their dignity. If he shows compassion for the convicts, desiring them to have contacts with the normal world, i.e. visits, we must think of mercy as well. It is true that prisoners are sinners; they have done much harm but they carry God’s element that we should discover it in them for their own sake. That’s why we must look at prisoners with love as Christ commands us to do. He takes their sides, not interfering into the judges’ decisions like the Holy Father John Paul II used to do towards Ali Agca. Some may say how you can show love for a robber who has beaten and robbed an elderly woman... I do not mean setting prisoners free but looking at their humanity. We will do this when we say good words to prisoners; when we pray for them, when we show them some love, goodness. I think that this therapy – the therapy of love – is what prisoners need most. Treating them as humans, showing kindness can make them new people – overcoming evil with good. Years ago Saint Brother Albert Chmielowski acted that way, saying that you had to be as good as the bread lying on the table, the bread which ‘everyone can slice and eat when he or she is hungry’. It does not matter what harm someone has done, what crime someone has committed and whether he/she regretted it afterwards, but we should treat him or her as human beings. Let us look at the mother whose son was sentenced to prison for many years. She does not stop loving him and showing him her love. And sometimes this degenerate son, serving his sentence, slowly becomes more human.
We must pay attention to the words of Lord Jesus, ‘I was in prison and you visited me’ (Matthew 25:36) and must see every prisoner as the man in whom Jesus Christ is also being incarnated.