Below is a letter I have written to a prisoner, whose name is Joseph. He has been in prison for twenty-fie years and there is no chance for him to be paroled. It is of course difficult. He was very young when he was first imprisoned, but over the years he has come a long way. I have been writing him for a few years and my respect for him grows every time we communicate.
He is open about his struggles, how his faith is deepening, and how the Lord is using him there to help others. Grace is always at work and it shows in how this man is growing in to becoming ever more human and Christ like. I am honored to know him.
Below is a letter that sent him. I am doing this to show others that there are prisoners who have gone through a deep conversion experience, an experience that is ongoing. Please pray for all prisoners, as well as their victims. Joseph knows that he is in prison for good reason, that he has a great debt to pay to society, but also that God’s mercy and grace are available to all of us.
I do believe in the statement: “There but for the grace of God, go I”. I know myself enough that am capable of a great many things that could land me in jail. It is only by grace that I have experience healing, and by grace that healing continues. Joseph has also experienced grace, for God’s love and healing mercy is open to all.The Letter to Joseph
Well, from your last email, I can say, in reality, you are a monk. For instance, you’re starting to understand ‘fear’ in your life is a sign of growth in self-knowledge. You have probably noticed that when you pray, it can start off ‘good’, or even very ‘pleasant’, filled with consolation. Then after a while, it dissipates and thoughts, memories, as well as fantasies can seem to take over.
This is something that has to happen. It is a call to pray for healing and to not be afraid of these ‘distractions’, they are simply a deeper call to self-love, as the Lord commanded us to do. When we can see our own inner chaos, and still continue, and not tie up ourselves into knots, it is then that our journey truly begins. Purgation is a gift, a time of deep healing, even though it may seem to be slow going. Yet this can lead to having compassion for ourselves, and then it leads to empathy and compassion for others.
Our inner lives too us are deep and mysterious, for there are layers and layers that we need to allow to surface, without fear, but with trust in the Lord’s love so that we can be healed. The deeper the healing, the more we find ourselves able to love and accept others, being comfortable with the knowledge that we can change no one, but need to be true to ourselves when we speak to others.
Gentleness and compassion are what draws others to us, it is a grace, Jesus works through us and often we do not know it. When we speak in anger, or in contempt, it is counterproductive, since it is rooted in the judgment of others, as well as self-judgment.
Never give up hope, even in the face of failure, for the Lord sees differently than we do. He sees your deepest desires, and He will focus on those that want to love and serve Him.
There will always be difficulties, and the deeper we go, the more we see that we fail. The paradox is that we also grow in trust of the mercy and love of God, for God sees it all. No surprises for God — we are the ones who become shocked sometimes when we grow in self-knowledge.
Nothing can stop God’s grace at work in your soul my friend. As hard as it is not to have the Eucharist, the Lord is still imparting Himself to you. Keep up the good work with joy, even in the midst of deep suffering.
Brother Mark Dohle has been a monk of the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, since 1971. He runs the monastery’s retreat house. His previous article was God Knows, We Will Doubt God.
Photo credit: Reading prison, after being closed (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images).