I Was In Prison and You Visited Me

Good News meditation.
by Thomas Vendetti, LC | Source:
A group of college students take Christ’s Gospel message seriously.

“I’ve been imprisoned for eighteen years in all…off and on…I’ve gotten out a couple of times, but here I am again,” says Nicolo from his cell where he spends practically the entire day.

“There are some different activities to make the time pass by a little; personally the one that interests me most is when Marco and the other college guys come down to teach us journalism,” comments Giovanni.

College students from Sapienza, the European University of Rome, and a couple of seminarians from Regina Apostolorum volunteer their time at Regina Coeli and Rebibbia detention centers once a week to teach journalism to the inmates. They call it “The Friendly Writing Workshop.”

“The idea is to get the inmates to use their imagination for something positive, and to forget about themselves for a while. They might discover a talent they didn’t realize they had, and begin to see their existence from a more positive perspective. God’s grace can build on that,” explains Brother Arturo, one of the volunteers.

In the first session the inmates are given an unfinished story, to which they are to create a positive ending. This gets their imagination going, and then every successive session builds on skills learned in the previous one.

At the end of the six week course the participants attend Mass with the prison chaplain, Father Vittorio, which is followed by a reception. They receive a certificate of participation along with a newspaper including all the stories written during the course.

“Most of them feel like their life is a total failure, yet I have seen some of them change their attitude during the workshop: Flavio does everything necessary to free up his Saturday mornings from chores and other responsibilities in order to attend the course; Massimo was writing poetry all week!” remarks James, one of the volunteers.

Yet there is another dimension to the course, as one inmate describes: “Here in prison you have to watch what you say; you can’t trust everyone. Yet, it’s not like that with the college students; they are real friends. What impresses me most is the fact that they dedicate the little free time they have to be with us, and it’s not like we can really give anything back…”

Yet there is still the other side to the coin: give and you shall receive.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re not learning anything in school, never leave campus except to go out on your beat, and are pursuing nothing but your own selfish educational ends (in my case, a third degree). This is an excellent way to get out and do something that you're proud of for the rest of the week,” says Louise, a volunteer from a previous course done in Harlem.

It is simple, but in the end it is what counts, for as Christ reveals, “What you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me” (Cf. Mt. 25:40).

- The names of the inmates have been changed to protect their identity.

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