Beyond Our Prisons

Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes     Psalm 103:10

On Wednesday February 16, 2011 a group of women in baggy blue-grey pants and tunics held a classroom filled wall-to-wall, captive to the stories of their captivity.

The room was packed with budding entrepreneurial students, professors, and friends of the Hogan Program at Chaminade University. Under the guidance of Pat Clough, Teacher of the Prison Writing Project in Kailua, these women used humor and tears, verse and prose, skits and song to tell cautionary tales of the bad choices, often repeated bad choices, that had led them to prison. Not free themselves, they gave freely of lessons learned, of the price paid in irretrievable loss: of loved ones, of family, of time, of self.

But every story of loss was also a story of redemptive promise. Over and over again, these women from the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) in Kailua, Oahu affirmed their commitment to giving back to the community. They do so by recounting their bad choices and touching other people’s lives in ways that might keep others from taking the same wrong turns they had:

I know my mistakes                                                

I have come to keep and honor them

The only true mistake

Is the one you do not learn from

Karen, WCCC

That evening that left few dry-eyed, came to mind on Sunday morning at the Mystical Rose Oratory as Fr. Timothy Eden read the Gospel in a way that challenged the frame through which we look out on the world.

Gesturing with both arms stretched out as if he were pushing back invisible walls on either side, Fr. Tim reminded the congregation that Christ challenges us to do very hard things. Near impossible things, it seems. To turn the other cheek. To walk the extra mile. To pray for those who persecute us. “For he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  (Matthew 5: 39-45) Christ invites us to get beyond the too small confines of how we view the call of faith, even the very commandments. Too small, said Fr. Tim, over and over again, pushing against those walls.

Pushing Back Against a Church Grown Small

As much as Fr. Tim challenged the congregation in that beautiful chapel, lay Catholics everywhere are called to challenge the institutional church. More than ever we need to ask the Church if it has become too small, too narrow, trapped in the suffocating closeness of its bureaucracy and its old, old, old power structure. Too small to admit women to the priesthood. Too small to welcome LGBT Catholics to full participation in all the sacraments and full recognition of their human identity. Too small to be pro-life in ways that transcend the obsession with authority that Bishop Olmsted at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Phoenix recently displayed.

Pope John XXIII provided the kind of leadership that resisted smallness, that encouraged inclusiveness, that threw open the windows of the Vatican so that the fresh wind of real Christ-like compassion and understanding could give its musty interiors a good airing. It’s time for much more of the same.

Hogan Entrepreneur, Nick Ogata and Pat Clough, Teacher, Prison Writing Project

The women from WCCC use their writing and school presentations to get beyond the walls that confine them. In so doing they help realize the vision that Warden Mark Paterson describes as one of transforming “not just the lives of women inmates, but lives in the community as well.” It wasn’t surprising that their message resonated with the Hogan Entrepreneurial Program. The Program charges every student with “doing social things that make business sense and business things that make social sense.”  Helping the homeless prepare for their job searches is as much a requirement for a Hogan student as listening to successful entrepreneurs tell their stories. Both prepare them to push back on the walls of the classroom and the jobs that await them so that their world is never “too small.”

Daily we encounter opportunities to push back on the walls that might otherwise close in on us.  The challenge is recognizing those opportunities in the smallest of spaces, in the midst of the worst kinds of confinement, to “find the sun within myself” (Royce, Federal Detention Center, Honolulu).

The Prison Writing Project is one initiative to help address the problem of the alarming growth of Hawaii’s female prison population. You can help by making a tax-deductible donation or arranging for a presentation of “Prison Monologues.”

Write to Pat Clough at pathclough@gmail.com

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Posted in Business and Justice, I BLOG, Prisons, Uncategorized, Women in Prison
8 comments on “Beyond Our Prisons
  1. Pat Gozemba says:

    Glad that you put a Facebook button here. I was only too happy to share this powerful piece on my page. You struck a real chord with me in hearkening back to Pope John XXIII–my favorite pope. When my father died, I discovered that he carried a little medallion of Pope John XXIII in his wallet. I have it on my own altar today. A constant reminder that justice and an open heart go hand in hand.

  2. Danette Kong says:

    What a wonderful posting, Dawn! I’ve posted it to my Facebook page and asked friends to read it for two reasons: 1) Your observations and insights into the transformative program led by Pat Clough, and 2) Your recounting of the inspirational homily by Fr. Tim.
    My first contact with Pat and the Hulihia Project was in 2007 as a hula group I was part of prepared to visit the inmates incarcerated in KY. Pat generously gave us some of the Hulihia publications so we could get a better “feel” for what the inmates were experiencing so far away from home. Our 2-day visit with the inmates in Wheelwright, KY, had quite an emotional and spiritual impact on my hula sisters and me.
    I’m currently chaplain for Pohai Nani Retirement Community, and our ecumenical congregation has voted to provide some funding to the Hulihia Project. We’re hopeful that we may be able to have a similar presentation here. Hmmm…I wonder if I could get Fr. Tim to come preach for me as a follow-up? 😉
    Thanks again for such a wonderful (as usual) posting!

    • Thank you for this comment, Danette. I am so pleased to have connected. I heard you preach at St. Mark’s several months ago–it was a Dignity USA (Honolulu) chapter service. My husband and I were very impressed by the story you told of your own faith journey and attitude towards the LGBT community.
      If you need help connecting to Fr. Tim Eden, let me know. He teaches at Chaminade and has other duties but I am sure he will be open to a conversation with you. Thanks again. (Also, I am new to FB, and would appreciate your visiting my Facebook page at freecatholic808).

      • Danette Kong says:

        Thanks for your response, Dawn! I just read it, after having posted your comments on Faith to my FB page, and referring people to your blog! I was searching to see if you might possibly have a Facebook page when I found your reply!

        I am so encouraged by your blogs to THINK and expand my personal spirituality. I love how you take your everyday experiences and observations, and weave them into a lei of spiritual nourishment. Please continue! And I most certainly will visit your Facebook page!

  3. Danette Kong says:

    Dawn — just an fyi: Pat and six of the women from WCCC will give a presentation in our worship service at Pohai Nani this coming Sunday morning,

    • Danette:

      Thanks for letting me know about this. Would be very interested in hearing how it went and how the audience reacted. Please tell Pat I send my best–and hope to see her at the Mystical Rose Oratory.

      Would like to visit Pohai Nani one of these days and see what you do.

  4. Acasia H. says:

    I am glad that there is a program like this in Hawaii. This is an example what most of us believe the aloha spirit should encompass: compassion, understanding, and respect. These women are rarely given a chance to express their voices and I am glad that in this case, they have that chance. Although they are in prison, they still have a chance to be a productive member of society by sharing their experiences with others. It’s a wonderful learning experience for everyone that makes us realize that in the end, whether we are prisoners or not, we are all humans who do make mistakes. And exactly as one woman wrote, our greatest mistakes are the ones we do not learn from.
    Having this kind of program available is really helping in creating a bridge between what some would consider to be two different worlds. It goes to show that if we give those who are sometimes misunderstood a chance express themselves, then we can potentially create an eye-opening learning experience that everyone can benefit from.

  5. Thomas M. says:

    It comes with great excitement to myself to see that some have begun to understand the meaning of “rehabilitation”. The opportunity for these women to learn, express, and present shows great strides in the desire to help those who have committed crimes. The tool of writing and speaking is extremely empowering for these female convicts as they are given the chance to not only understand and explain their own remorse, but more importantly develop methods of communication that transfer directly into success in society. This opportunity is a direct method of organization by women as it offers an indirect means off civic engagement, connecting our society with those that we have deemed in need of rehabilitation, described by some as “in debt to our society”, while providing a medium for progress in society.

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