Letters From Prison 2006 #1- Holy Week in the Slammer

Holy Week in the Slammer
By Steve Clemens. FPC Duluth. April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday 5 am, 2006
"Woke up this morning with my mind and it was stayed on Jesus." John [LaForge] went to the "Protestant" Wed. evening service because he was told they have a great choir. When they whipped into the great Negro Spiritual "Woke up this Morning," John was greatly disappointed that the refrain was just "stayed on Jesus" rather than the more appropriately (and originally) "stayed on Freedom."

Like American slavery, if you can divert the captives' attention to "Jesus," more than half the battle is won for the oppressor. I've had my experience before with "jailhouse religion" and it certainly is a regular coping tool
for a certain segment here.

I chose to attend the Maundy Thursday Catholic Mass (held on Wednesday). (They did indicate the Good Friday service would actually be held on Friday rather than Thursday though.) There were about 50-60 men attending the service in the chapel. One nice touch was the reading of the Scriptures (and some of the liturgical prayers) in both English and Spanish. I was told that Sister Timothy, a feisty old nun (from the St. Scholastica community) comes on Wednesdays and I wanted to meet her.

Typical of the tradition, the biblical passages read were the Passover/Exodus story followed by Paul's account of the last supper and John's account of the foot washing. With two basins on the altar area, I got my hopes up that the Priest was actually going to wash the feet of we convicts--or at least symbolically pick out the inmate with the most amount of time on his sentence and wash his feet. Wouldn't that have sent a clear Gospel message! However, alas, it was not to be. In an ironically creative twist, we were told we were welcomed to participate in a symbolic "hand washing" in which the good sister and the priest stood before two lines of
inmates and rubbed our hands in the basin water and then the inmate ahead of us dried our hands and then we took the towel and dried the following man's hands.

It wasn't until after the service that I realized the irony. Although it is almost certainly specious historically (Pontius Pilate was removed from his position by the Romans because of his excessive cruelty), the biblical
tradition has the Last Supper followed by Jesus' arrest and Pilate "washing his hands" of the whole messy matter of the kangaroo court and Jesus’ subsequent execution.

How does the church continue to "wash her hands" when Christ is re-crucified every day in the crushing of hopes and spirits within the prison walls? When we were handed the wafer--"the Body of Christ" during the Eucharist which followed the hand washing, we, those locked up for 3 months or 15 years, are the body of Jesus here today. If only that reality could creep into our cells (actually we live in dorms) and tear down these prison walls! (Actually we just have a chain-link fence here.)

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