The first day is an evening of welcoming, introducing, and informing about the program. The next two days are full: 9 am to 6 pm. The last day closes at 3 pm with the residents telling us what they got out of the retreat. They say they:
- Are always spiritually better than before the retreat,
- Sometimes feel a reawakening and recharging of a dormant religious faith or a boost to an active faith,
- Perhaps convert from a self-with-no-God to a self-with-God,
- Sometimes experience a reversal from no morals to a moral life.
Can you feel the joy? Ours and Jesus’s.
Of the 50 or so prisons in New York State, only two are maximum-maximum security, called maxi-maxi—dangerous people in a dangerous environment. Over 60 percent of the prisoners are in for life and the minimum sentence is 25 years to life. Getting out on parole is not easy. They see the parole board once every two years. Some residents have been doing everything right and still get turned down by the parole board six, seven, eight times. Some become depressed. Such is life in our prison.
Significantly, prisoners from other prisons request transfers from a nominally less dangerous place to our maxi-maxi. This maxi-maxi has gotten the reputation for being relatively peaceful, meaning less violent or safer. I believe it is because of the annual Kairos retreats and the monthly prayer and share meetings.
We train the residents to run prayer and share groups. We urge them to meet at least once a month to share their state of soul and prayers. The idea is to keep the Christian community together and growing. Mentors among them are spiritually mature men who help neophytes navigate a Christian life in a dark, dangerous place. We look up to the mentors for their courage and constancy. They guide the community upward and onward,
We volunteers are the invited guests, joining them. They run the meetings; we participate. We all—both sides—renew and reinvigorate the spiritual brotherhood birthed at the retreat. We volunteers, including Affiliates Hans Pittner and myself, treat the residents like human beings. We don’t have to do this. We sacrifice for them. They see it and wonder about it, thank us for it. They see that we enjoy them, not tolerate them or keep them at a distance. We give them hugs and let them hug us. (Hugs are against the rules of the New York prison system!)