Editorial – New Life in Prison

Marnie McAllister

Two burgundy french braids with brunette roots end at her grief-wracked shoulders. Shaking with suppressed weeping, her shoulders are clad in yellow scrubs stamped with black lettering: LMDC.

The initials stand for Louisville Metro Dept. of Corrections. She’s an inmate there, enrolled in a rehab program designed to help her turn her drug-controlled past into new life.

She looks barely 20, but she has experienced more of life’s suffering than many of us ever will.

She shared with a group of visitors last week that she lost custody of her 14-month old son after she was caught cooking methamphetamine in her home — in his presence.

It was the worst thing I’ve ever done, she told the visitors — a group of local professionals.

In her next breath, she told her listeners that her son was the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

His foster family adopted him, she explained, and they’re giving him a good life, one she could never provide. She said this with relief before collapsing in tears again.

She briefly described a childhood like the one she was initially providing for her child — it’s all I’ve ever known, she explained.

Enrolled in the LMDC Enough is Enough Program, she and her 29 other dorm-mates hope that by the time they’re released, they’ll be changed.

The program doesn’t let them forget how far they’ve come already.

Sixteen of the women in the Enough is Enough dorm are in recovery and making strides. They welcomed their visitors last week with smiles and openness, generously sharing how the program has helped them take responsibility for their actions and make plans for the future.

Steps away from their dorm tables, though, another 14 were lying on cots in the middle of detox, sleeping for the most part.

The walls of their dorm are covered in signs the inmates have made to remind them what they’re learning. They’re drawn in brightly colored marker — reds, yellows, blues —in whimsical bubble letters, contrasting with their sobering messages about addiction and crime.

One wall is devoted to “Angels in Heaven” — their friends and family who have died. Clippings of obituaries and hand-written lists of names memorialize their lives.

These women know what it means to suffer. And they are seeking resurrection at Louisville Metro Dept. of Corrections.

Speaking to staff members of Rome’s Regina Coeli prison Feb. 7, Pope Francis spoke of the need for such hope in prisons.

“A punishment without hope does not serve a purpose, it does not help, it arouses in one’s heart feelings of resentment, many times of revenge, and the person leaves worse than he entered,” the pope said.

Noting that he has “sincere affection” for prisoners and prison workers, he said that every two weeks he calls “a group of inmates in a prison I often visited” in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“I always had the feeling when I entered the prison, ‘Why them and not me?’ ” he said. “I could have been there and instead no. The Lord has given me the grace that my sins and failings have been forgiven and not seen. I don’t know. But that question helps so much: ‘Why them and not me?’”

If the Holy Father can ask that question, then we surely can.

This Holy Week, as we try to understand the suffering of Jesus, remember in our prayers with special closeness these women and all the men and women who are imprisoned in our jails and prisons.

Marnie McAllister

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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