10 March 2011

Praying on the 11th Floor

photo from nationalgeographic.com

If you had been following me around this morning, you would have seen this sight up on the 11th floor. At the jail, the higher the floor, the greater the security. These men are housed in one-person cells. They can talk to each other--if they yell--but they can't see each other. One at a time, a man is released from his cell for "yard" time. That means he gets to roam the concrete floor in front of the other nine cells in his area. 

If he wants to see outside, he can stand on a steel bench and take a look at the view of downtown or the freeway or the city building across the street. He can use the phone; no guarantees that anyone's taking his calls. He can stretch and not touch both walls with his palms. Men housed up here often have mental health issues or medication issues or just general cussed-off-at-society issues. It gets noisy.

I went up to the eleventh floor this morning, three different requests in my hands. Turned out one man had been moved down to the tenth floor, so I began with the two who were still on eleven.

William told me his mother died in Oakland CA on March 1st. She'd had surgery for a hole in her heart four years ago and he kept hoping he'd get down to California to see her. Elsie's name went into the book of Those Who Have Died. William and I prayed for her and for him, both of us fighting off tears.

And because nothing is ever private on the 11th floor, the two guys who'd been yelling at each other actually shut up for a few minutes. As soon as I said, "Amen," one of them was calling, "Chaplain! Over here!" I said goodbye to William and went down the row. I took note of who needed a bible, who really wanted some writing paper, and oh yes, yes, we could pray.

Usually I hold a man's hand when we pray together, something very Catholic about that, sacramental. But on the 11th floor, we can't hold hands. Instead, like Shakespeare's young lovers, we are palm to palm on the glass.

Gracious God,
see this beloved son of yours
whose heart aches
with the loss of his mother.
Draw her home to you
and surround her with your angels and saints.
Give her the healing and peace that she prayed for
during her lifetime
and the fullness of love in your presence.
Be with this son of hers
who broke her heart
and made her laugh
and taught her to forgive
again and again.
Fill him with your Spirit of reconciliation
and gratitude.
Fill him with the memories and stories
that will carry him through.
Listen, even as he tries to swallow his tears,
and comfort him.
We ask this in the name of Jesus.


JosephMcG said...

Love your writing... Really touched by your sacramental moments, hand to hand, hand against glass..
I shall be smiling this whold day thinking of you and your ministry

claire said...

Ah, Shannon, this breaks my heart. And you do this day in day out, bringing God to those who have nothing left...