Posts Tagged ‘prison chaplain’

I watch and wait

July 16, 2017

—-∞∞—-

Thundering, blowing rain
A squall
Wind-whipped leaves
Vegetables in the prisoners’ garden
Planted in the housing unit yard
By the fence

While a desolate place
Nurturing rain
Growth
Symbols of life’s hope
Grace overcoming bleakness
Pushing aside despair

Sheltered under an overhang
I watch and wait
Far from the chapel
Where men also wait
Four locked gates away
I watch and wait

© 2017 Thomas W. Cummins

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An interview that turned out pretty well

November 4, 2014

An article that gives a peek at what I do in prison ministry.

A half smile and a nod

January 30, 2014

—∞—

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when? – Hillel

Last evening, at the offender’s request, I was a ministerial witness to his execution. There were only two witnesses for him, and I was the only one who actually knew him. During the past 13 years, we had conversed countless times as I visited the prison where he lived. My role there is as an assistant chaplain.

From what I could tell, my eyes were the only ones he made contact with as he was lying on the gurney. He gave a half smile and a nod in response to my nod.

The above quote bubbled up as I reflect on this morning after.

If not me, who?

November 17, 2013

I’m preparing to travel to the prison where an execution will take place at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, November 20. In my role as a ministerial witness, my arrival is to be around 11:00 p.m.

The man scheduled for execution is Joseph Paul Franklin, a hate-crime serial killer. I have known Mr. Franklin for more than 12 years, and I have visited his isolation cell countless times.

Some may ask, Why bother? That question calls to mind a couple of lines from the movie, Longford, about which I have blogged previously. Lord Longford was on a radio show and was being challenged about his long, frustrating and futile efforts to free Myra Hindley, one of the notorious Moors Murderers in the early 60s. The crimes were horrendous, grisly.

Lord Longford: … Forgiving her has proven difficult, very difficult. Not for what’s she’s done to me, that’s neither here nor there; but for the terrible crimes themselves. Forgiveness is the very cornerstone of my faith. And the struggle to deepen my faith is my life’s journey. In that respect she has enriched my spiritual life beyond measure, and for that, I will always be grateful to her.

Lord Longford: If people think that makes me weak… or mad… so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sins. To assume the best in people, and not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed… eventually.

So, I told Mr. Franklin I would be there for him. And if the execution goes through, I will be.

An Immeasurable distance

January 23, 2013

I must admit that this came forth very painfully. I’m supposed to be writing for my book on prison ministry, but this came out instead.

 —0—0—

An Immeasurable Distance

A young black face
Male
In profile
Through the narrow cell window
Just his profile
He was leaning
His back against the wall
Standing
Less than two feet away
But the door
The cell door
The solid steel cell door
Imposed an immeasurable distance
Between us
A gulf socioeconomic, judicial, racial
A span of years, experiences, hopes, dreams
Fears
Separated us
 
He spoke softly
“It’s hard,” he said
“I know,” was my only reply
Tears
Flowed instantly
Glistening on his dark skin
Catching the light from the small window
Twelve feet away
I also wept … inside
Silently, invisibly
Carrying on my own tears
Hundreds of young men
Hidden behind those doors
For the past twelve years
I’ve stood at those doors
 
This young man facing life
Without parole
Wept
Now 25 years old
He was eighteen
The day I first knocked on his door

 © 2013 Thomas W. Cummins

This Door That Separates Us

May 14, 2012

The other day I was speaking with an offender who has been in solitary isolation in one institution or another for more than three decades. I’ve known him for 11 years. Here is my poetic reflection on the essence of a big portion of our conversation.

 
“You relate differently,
Differently from others
I mean.”
He was being serious
Observant
After many years
Many years alone
In his cell for many years
Alone.
 
I replied,
“I believe I spend
My belief is that I spend
Much time while we talk
On your side of this door
This door that separates us.”
 
(How can I explain
The door?
How the door is not as real
As one might expect
Somehow I place myself
Through the door
On the other side as we talk
Through the door
This door that separates us.)
 
“Empathy?” he asks.
“No.
More of a resonance
A willingness to enter
Your existence
Your existence is something
To feel
I am willing to consider and to feel
Your existence
Your side of the door.”
 
 © 2012 Thomas W. Cummins