My experiences as a Prison Chaplain

Javier Garralda SJ
Associate Pastor at St. Ignatius Church

  More than serving as a chaplain for male prisoners suffering at Fuchu jail and Kosuge prison, I visit them there as a true friend.
  Not only do I see Jesus in them, I am happily drawn there by Jesus and bring him there as he desires.
In Fuchu jail I usually meet with about 60 active Spanish-speaking prisoners. Once or twice a month I celebrate Mass for 45 minutes. Attendance is free and usually 20 people come to the Mass. It is a bit difficult to prepare sermons that answer their actual needs. Once a month I also conduct 15-minute private personal interviews with about 10 people.
  In the Kosuge prison once a month I meet Japanese prisoners with death sentences awaiting execution. There are 4 prisoners coming for 30-minute private consultations.
  In Fuchu the main distress of foreign inmates is loneliness. Their strongest worries are: letters from their families costing money and arriving late, the health of their parents in faraway countries, the growth of their children, the loyalty of their wives, etc. To them, living as they do in a foreign country, this loneliness is a suffering more painful than the cold of winter and the heat of summer.
  In private conversations the most common topics are their family, the time of their release from jail, their future work and how to get free from bad companions and bad environments. I also talk about God, faith, the Bible, prayer and conversion. There are confessions and many of them receive Holy Communion.
  Normally they can’t talk with anybody else and when they meet with the chaplains they open their hearts, laugh, and are able to find some little strength. Many of them seriously tell me, “Thank you for coming today. Please come again often.”
  On the other hand, I am the only one able to speak with those in death row awaiting execution. I meet with them for 30 minutes once a month. Such persons, naturally, never bring up the topic of their release, their future, or their families. Rather, they show extreme interest in God, religion, social issues, and history because they do not have any hope for the future. They read the Bible thoroughly and books about faith. Their comments and doubts give me much matter for reflection. To be their personal chaplain is to me a deeply fruitful experience.
  Although I mentioned that I meet the Fuchu and Kosuge prisoners as friends, our relationship is not that of equals. After all, I come back home but they remain in jail. That’s why I desire that Jesus, who comes along with me, will remain with them there, while I return to the free world they so much desire to re-enter. I have very complicated feelings!

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