New Creation

“Get out of the Way”

 

A phrase often used in jails and, to some extent, here at PBMR is “humble yourself.”  In many ways, it means to get yourself “out the way”—to open yourself to something other than yourself.

As the Catholic Church, we are struggling with the sin of church leadership: priests, bishops, and the sexual abuse of minors. It is a violation against the most vulnerable among us and causes emotional and spiritual harm. It is also a breach of the trust.   

Some will leave the Church, and who can blame them, and others will remain. For those who remain, we must strive to reconstruct a Church that seeks to repair the harm done. 

Richard Rohr, an author and lecturer, says that a litmus test for a true spirituality is whether you are the focus of conversion. Is it keeping you listening for God? Is it keeping your own feet to the fire? We cannot deny the pain or wait for better days. Transformation will only happen when we touch the wounds, when we give space to the pain and suffering. Spirituality is about what we do with the pain. 

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were confronted with the sacred wounds that still were visible in the resurrected Jesus. Unless the disciples were willing to touch the wounds of Jesus, they would have continued hoping for and expecting a savior who would dominate and rule. 

The transformation of the Catholic Church must come from the suffering and pain that we have both inflicted and suffered. The response cannot only be another set of policies that are stricter or a more expansive. 

A year or so ago, I was asked if I could help with something that happened at one of the Catholic schools.  One of the students had posted a racist comment on Facebook.  It was shared openly and caused great pain and suffering within the school and the community. The school administration was seeking ways to respond. I suggested discussing the incident using restorative justice practices. The postings made on Facebook merely highlighted what had existed and continued to cause great harm. The school administration took another way and expelled the students involved.  They refused to touch the wounds. They refused to allow the humiliating wound to become sacred and sanctifying.

Transformation never come easily; it is always the result of suffering. It happens only if we are truly willing to get ourselves “out the way” and are willing to touch the wounds and allow them to become sacred wounds.

This should not be unfamiliar to us; it is what we do each time we gather around the table at Eucharist. We celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Paschal mystery, because only when we are willing to touch the woundedness of one another, will we become a new creation.   

Chicago’s Via Crucis

Once again,Chicago is in the news for the violence. It is hard to deny the gravity of the problem when the number of shootings in a seven hour period on a Sunday morning reaches 40 people. As I expected, there were a lot of people weighing in on who or what is responsible: police, community, young men, poverty, gangs, drugs, trauma, etc.

For us here at PBMR, like so many, this is not a theoretical discussion. It is deeply, deeply personal. Last week three of the gunshot victims were part of our family – they were shot getting ready to start their workday in our woodshop. Luckily, they will survive the physical trauma; the emotional trauma, however, is a different story. Trauma is that which we cannot integrate or make sense of; it is that which interrupts our lives and causes deep emotional wounds. It causes outbursts of emotions: fear, deep sadness, and anger. Often it leaves one hyper vigilant and paranoid, and erodes trust, which ultimately leaves one in isolation. A couple hours after the shooting, we sat in circle with a group of young men from the Center. One of the young men burst into tears and covered his face. Everyone understood for each feels the weight of living in a world where young men of color are more likely to die of homicide than anything else. While my heart aches at their pain, I feel some comfort in that we can at least offer these young men (and staff) a place where emotions are not silenced; a place where outrage and anger are given space, where healing can begin. I don’t have the answers, but I know this is exactly where we are supposed to be. This is a sacred place, not because we fill the air with platitudes or have answers, but because we are present.

Some years ago, Sr. Donna Liette CPPS and I were at a retreat center in California – Mater Dolorosa. Walking down the long winding path outside the main building, you stumble upon a series of large statues depicting Jesus on his path to Calvary. One was of the women of Jerusalem meeting Jesus, next was the one of Mary encountering Jesus as he strained under the weight of the cross. It was the pained and helpless look on Mary’s face that really spoke to me. And in the eyes of Jesus was the loving recognition of his mother. Even in her powerlessness there was the powerful presence of His mother – one who would not be separated from her son.

Last week, when our young men were shot in front of our art center. Being so close, many of us arrived well before the ambulance. I held my hand over Dashaun’s wound, pressing hard to stop the bleeding until another staff got the tourniquet around his leg and the ambulance arrived. It was a frightening moment but also very sacred. As I washed the blood from my hand, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. While they were tears of being powerless in the face of so much violence, they were also tears of being connected to a spirituality that embraces pain and suffering and places it in the pain and suffering of Jesus.

Strange as it may sound, as I washed my hands, the song (Song of Liberation, by Joe Nassal and John Winkels) sung so often at our CPPS celebrations, came to mind: “The blood of Christ refreshes our souls, gives us new courage, liberates our lives. The blood of the poor soaks into the land, cries out for justice, yearning for peace. We are redeemed in the blood of Christ. We are washed in love. Sent by the blood, stained by the blood, we are servants of the blood of Christ. The bones of the weary ache for compassion, searching for vision, shout out with newstrength.” We are where we are supposed to be – present to the suffering as we give witness to power ofGod’s love.

Creating a Home in the Love of God

Relationships are hard.  It takes work to maintain a healthy relationship – with God, your spouse, or even your children.  It should be no surprise, then, that it also takes work to transform broken relationships into healthy relationships – creating a beloved community, a community of hope.

In reality, the work of reconciliation is counter intuitive – rather than moving away from pain and hurt, you move toward it.  You move into the pain and the hurt and stand in that muddled mess.  It is not that we are seeking more pain in our lives, but God lives in the suffering of his people.  We are called to stand alongside those who are hurting.

We do a circle every Thursday at the only Catholic school in our area.  It is a small school – serving the many of the poor of our community.    I cannot imagine any of the children paying much of a tuition.  As our last circle concluded, a young girl handed a note to one of the staff.  It was a long note, but the message was simple – she and her family of 9 were recently evicted from their apartment.  They were now living in a hotel – and not the Holiday Inn type of hotel.

I have to admit that, given all that we are already trying to deal with – other families who struggle to maintain a roof over their head, the violence and the daily impact of poverty, I was tempted to say, “What can we do?”   However, in conversation with the principal of the school – a 78-year-old nun – we are working on a plan.

Reconciliation is a ministry that demands that we be willing to be stained by the blood of Christ – to touch the woundedness of Thomas, to walk alongside the harmed on the road to Emmaus or to stand at the foot of the cross.  It is not an easy place to be.  It is messy and at times very

lonely.  You want to say enough is enough!

The ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel.  It demands that we go to the margins or stand in the breach and witness to God’s love.  The margins can be the kid who sits in the classroom shunned by other students or the neighbor who never seems to come out of the house.

Whenever I go into the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, I go to two places for sure: intake, that houses the recent arrivals, and segregation, that houses those who have been deemed “bad”.  You never know what you will encounter: anger, fear, loneliness or all of the above.

A young man, who was just brought into the Juvenile Detention Center, asked if I would call his father.  He wanted his father to know where he was.  I assured him that his father knew, but he wasn’t convinced and so I agreed to call.  Before I left the unit he called out again from inside his cell.  I approached and, in a look of desperation, he asked if I was really going to call – I assured him I would.

When I did call on my way home that night, the father was obviously relieved and overjoyed to hear that his son was ok….you could feel the relief in his voice to finally hear some word about his boy.  He was extremely thankful.  “I know you have much to do”, he said, “but that you took time to call means everything to me; you don’t know how much I wanted to hear some word from my boy.”

Nothing really changed in their situation; the young man still was held in the detention center and the father was separated from the son he loved.  But for that very brief moment their isolation from one another was interrupted.

John, the gospel writer, says that it is the love of God that will dispel the darkness. God’s love creates a home in which we reside.

I sat in court for a young man, Joe, from our Center.  I had been in court with him many times before.  He had no other family member there.  As they brought him in, he glanced out over the gallery of waiting families and caught my eye – for that brief moment, he was not alone.

The sentence was 8 ½ years in prison.  That sentence felt like an eternity to Joe.  His lawyer walked over and said that Joe asked the judge if he could say goodbye to me.  The judge allowed it and I approached the front of the courtroom, embraced Joe, and said that I would be there for him through the years.  As Joe was being led back to lock up, he turned and thanked me for being there for him.

Our mission statement says that we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  It is a mission to simply stand in the breach and witness to the power of God’s love to create in us a HOME!

Strength and Serenity: The Women’s Mural Comes to Life

The women of PBMR. Not a phrase you hear often at a Center started by four priests as a safe haven for young men. But over the past few years, the women in the neighborhood have become vital members of the PBMR community. On Saturday, February 3, these women gathered together to christen the new Mother Brunner House – the Women’s Center – with a mural that depicts the strength, serenity, and power of the women of PBMR.

The project included women from three programs at PBMR: the women of the advocacy group Community and Relatives of Illinois’ Incarcerated Children (CRIIC), the women from the Mothers’ Healing Circles who have lost children to incarceration and gun violence, and the Young Women’s Group, the newest program for women.

With the help and direction of PBMR’s teaching artist, Alberto Alaniz, the women gave suggestions of the words and images that come to mind when they think of the women of PBMR. The answers were as varied as the women themselves: unity, strength, love, hearts and stars, peace signs, mother and child. Then representatives from each program consulted with Alberto and together the group came up with the image for the wall. A few weeks later, over 20 women gathered at the Mother Brunner House to paint in the image.

You’d think a room full of 20 women, ranging from ages 6 to 80, painting a huge space with lots of color would be a chaotic scene, but the space had a peaceful, collaborative, and happy feel.

Mrs. Wingard, the eldest and wisest in the group and a member of CRIIC, shared her reflections on the day: “Just to remember that I put a paintbrush on the wall and Fr. Kelly and Julie and Sr. Donna are gonna walk through there and see the mural and I thought ‘Wow, I really feel a part of that’…And then to think about them getting the house and putting something on the wall that actually reaches out to the community. [The mural] shows families coming together and it’s not just one ethnicity. It’s not just black, not just white, not just latino: it’s everyone coming together for a common cause, for our children, for our community.”

Shumeka Taylor, a representative of the Young Women’s Group, said that putting the handprints and quotes on the wall was her favorite part. “The hands was so nice. We all who had been doing the part of the wall and engraving our names and a nice quote and that’s something that’s going to live forever in the house and I like that.” Shumeka added “From the older women to the young women, I truly enjoyed it. The older lady put the French braid in my hair while I painted the rest of the mural because they didn’t want paint to get in my 26 inches. I greatly appreciated everything that went on that day.”

Aldena Brown, a member of the Mothers’ Healing Circles, felt Helen Keller’s quote “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much” captured the essence of the day.  “That day of the painting felt good. Everyone working together, good laughs, music, and food! That moment was like nothing mattered. Painting that mural was everything, just being a part of something so meaningful. That gave my heart joy and peace in that moment.  My mind drifted to a great place pushing that paintbrush. Yes, I must say that will be a day I’ll never forget! I was a part of that painting coming to life! I’m very thankful!”

The women of PBMR are leaving their legacy all over PBMR and the neighborhood, from the relationships they make to the steps they take towards their goals to the beautiful mural that will greet all the visitors of the Center. From now on, every person who walks through the doors of the Mother Brunner House will know that the women in the community are an integral part of PBMR: strong, unified, and here to stay.

 

Good Vibes

As PBMR grows, we require more support from funders and grants.  Grants and foundations demand that we demonstrate our effectiveness.  We do what we do because it is the right thing to do, but, I did go to a meeting where I was hoping to get some ideas on how we could build out more solidly our workforce development project – it needs some funding.

The person who met with us was someone who has some knowledge of PBMR and I would say cares for us.  He truly wanted to help.  He asked me from the start, “can I speak directly without offending you?”  I assured him that was the purpose of our visit and would welcome some unvarnished truth.

He responded to the fact that we are mission driven and live within the community with, “so what?”  He wasn’t being disrespectful, but driving home the point that we need data to demonstrate our effectiveness.

I appreciated his direct talk and was comforted with the fact that we were doing just that.  We are committed to better telling our story through real measurements and outcomes.

Later that same day, I got a call from a social worker from Northwestern University.  She was working with a young man who was just released from prison after his case was overturned on a wrongful conviction appeal.  He was falsely accused and put in prison at the age of fifteen for 10 years.  It is part of Northwestern University’s “Innocence Project”.  She asked if they could stop by for a quick visit.

You can only imagine what it would be like to be held in prison for ten years at that vulnerable age for something you didn’t do.  To make matters worse, when he came home to Detroit, Michigan, he was shot.  Apparently, where his mother lives is pretty rough and he was a stranger in his own community.

Because of all that was happening, he decided to move to Chicago to get a fresh start.  He came to Chicago because the only people who really supported him during that time of incarceration was the social workers at Northwestern University’s “Innocence Project”.

He was staying at a halfway house on the south side of Chicago, which provided him housing, but little else.  Due to the status of funding for Northwestern, they have little capacity to help with support outside the lawyers and social workers.

I met them when they arrived and spent about 2 hours talking and, after, gave them a “tour” of PBMR. As we sat back down, Traquan said that “I really like it here; this place has good vibes”.  He went on to share how much he felt comfortable with all the pictures and people at PBMR.  It was a place where people could understand where he was coming from; a place where he was not judged. He said many people, even after they know I was innocently put in prison, think that I got out due to a technicality.  “I get tired of trying to explain to people that even though I was in prison for 10 years, that I am not a bad person.”  He then asked, “Can I come back?  You think I can get involved here?”  Of course, I said yes.

We are definitely going to work on our “values proposition”.  But the real measurement of value for PBMR is that we “have good vibes” for those who feel alone or disconnected.   I am not sure how we measure “good vibes”, but we’re gonna give it a shot.  In the meantime, I thank Traquan for his seal of approval.

 

Changing Narratives

Do you remember December 31st, 1999 when we all waited with fear and expectation of what could be? Some prepared for the worst: would the world come to an end? Well it didn’t, and as the new Millennium began, four Missionaries of the Precious Blood felt challenged to change the narrative of priests and their relationship to community – so they moved beyond their work in parishes to the streets of Back of the Yards. They opened a safe place and PBMR was born!

January is a great time to sit by the fireplace and remember what was and what is becoming, and yesterday I did just that. 2017 was an amazing year of transformation at PBMR! The dream of purchasing and renovating an abandoned house in the neighborhood became a reality and Mother Brunner (MB) House was opened. A few days ago my heart was just bursting with joy as I walked through this beautiful new home (take a walk with me!). There in the first room was Allyson, our social work intern, with a mother searching for affordable housing. In the next room, another mother was working with a volunteer on possibilities for furthering her education; this mother received her high school diploma months ago in our newly created Education Lab with the support of Sister Janet! In the two Mother Brunner kitchens, pizzas were being prepared; in the family circle room, Leah, one of our Precious Blood Volunteers, was preparing for a Young Women’s Circle and Francis (Fr. Denny’s dog) was checking out the activities hoping a morsel of food would fall for his consumption! Then I stopped by Julie’s office, one of the four offices in the MB House. Julie and I celebrated the achievements of her advocacy group, CRIIC; because of their work, Julie and other mothers and fathers now know that their sons—who had originally been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as juveniles—will not die in prison. In fact, some are already free! So, if anyone should think that our “Back of the Yards” neighborhood is just an ugly, violent, inactive community – come and see – the narratives are changing!

On a warm day several weeks ago, Raheem, one of the four young men who helped renovate the MB House, and I planted tulip bulbs around the house (a new experience for him). As he was digging the holes and placing the bulb point up, we talked about how these bulbs need to be in the dark earth for the winter but then we will see new life pop up all over – and we will delight the whole neighborhood! We compared that to our own lives and to our community: out of the dark, new life has been popping up!

Of course you have all heard of our community garden – yes, once in this community, there were no fresh, affordable vegetables, a real food desert—but Sister Carolyn and her team (Mary, Sharrow, several youth, and our friends from St. John of the Cross) have transformed a parking lot into a luscious vegetable garden which produced over 3000 lbs. of food for the community this year.

With the constant coaching of Patrick, we have youth, mothers, and fathers out in the workforce delighted to have a job and the support of PBMR – another changing narrative! Yesterday, Mr. Lewis from Coldwell Bankers delivered our $12,000 check for the startup of our next building and he was amazed when he saw all the activity, and was especially impressed by the youth in the woodworking shop – so engaged in their projects, yet so hospitable and proud of their work under the guidance of Mike!

As always, Restorative Justice plays a major role at the Center. There have been circles of reconciliation, celebration, training, young women, young men, and mothers throughout the year. Pamela has facilitated many of these and introduced circles into the schools and community, along with introducing our young people to pumpkin carving!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the transformative ministry in our jails and prisons. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Frs. Denny and Dave along with Sara and Mike and other volunteers visit our incarcerated children at the Juvenile Detention Center. Mike Donovan goes from one Illinois prison to another, week after week, visiting young men who have been sentenced, offering them support and love.  Many have no other visitors but Mike! More of our staff, including Artrice and Orlando, also provide services for people re-entering society after incarceration. We walk with these people through a very difficult transition.

Our Restorative Justice Café (RJ Café – Art Center) has also transformed and been transformed by the art displays and the many visitors: ministers, police officers, Latino families, and guests from our Fall Barbeque fundraiser! Speaking of the wonderful day of October 1st , our Fall fundraiser–our community joined in prayer and celebration with friends from the north, south, east, and west and suddenly people who were far off  were brought close at the table of Eucharist and roasted pork!

Yes, our staff has rapidly increased and so has our presence in the neighborhood. We have a very eager and energetic group of young volunteers who, along with Jonathan, Lamonte and Phillip, really change narratives and keep the older ones of us on our toes—even Fr. Kelly!

It is a New Year, may we continue to work together, allowing God to transform us and our communities, churches, and families so the old narratives are changed and new life springs up out of the dark!

A Celebration of Remembrance

We had a large gathering of folks here for the celebration of All Souls Day or, in many cultures, “Dia de los Muertos”.  It is a celebration of remembrance.  We remembered all those who have passed on, who were so much a part of our lives.

Hundreds gathered here at PBMR creating small altars of remembrance.  There was a procession through the streets, rituals and blessings.  People came with pictures of their loved ones; mothers clutched the image of their sons/daughters who were killed by violence.

As Catholics, we have a long and deep tradition of rituals that allow us to tell our story of loss and suffering in the context of our faith story.  Rituals allow us to bring near and touch that which is hard to express in words.  In trauma work, we often use rituals and storytelling, poetry and art, to help express and share what so often is hard to verbalize.  So often youth who have been victims of violence and abuse find it difficult to talk about their emotions, but in poetry or art, these feelings are more accessible and more easily shared.

It is probably no surprise to most that I know many who are locked up in our jails and prisons.  I keep in contact with as many as I can through visits, phone calls and letters.  But it is hard to maintain relationships with so many – especially as they are sent downstate to a prison or detention facility. I struggle with a sense of powerlessness because I lose contact with so many who are locked in our prisons.

Yesterday, Joe called from Cook County Jail.  He is twenty years old and has been locked up for almost a year now.  Joe was a constant at PBMR.  He would go often with me to give talks – he had an outgoing personality that allowed people to come to know what we see in so many of youth – a deep respect and a desire for a better life.

When you receive a collect call from jail or prison, you have to wait for a long and repetitive recording to tell you that it is a collect call from an “inmate”.  The recording is more annoying because it takes away from the short amount of time allowed for the phone call from the “inmate”.

As soon as the recording ended, Joe blurted, “Fr. Kelly, are you ok?”  I responded that I was fine, tired, but fine.  He went on to say he had been trying to reach me, and because there were so many failed attempts at connecting via phone, he thought something happened to me.   While I appreciated his concern, I knew that much of his concern was that PBMR is his only connection to the outside world.  Phone calls are expensive and most family members cannot afford to “keep money on their phone”.

After talking a bit, he asked about everybody at the Center: Fr. Denny, Sr. Donna, Jonathan, Pamela, Sr. Carolyn, etc.  He asked about everyone at PBMR, as though he had a list and was checking off the names.  Since I was at the Center, I asked him if he wanted to talk to some of them.  One by one, people got on the phone and spoke with Joe.  You could hear laughter, words of encouragement, and expressions of love.

As the time drew near for the phone call to be terminated, I got back on the phone; Joe’s voice was so full of life; you could hear the joy of being reconnected.  “Man, Fr. Kelly”, he said, “I feel so much better.  I was wondering if people were thinking of me or if everybody had forgotten me.”  I assured him that we thought of him regularly – he was still very much a part of the Precious Blood Center.

The phone call abruptly terminated.

In many ways, that phone call was a ritual of remembrance.  We didn’t create an altar, but we celebrated Joe’s connection to his community, and in that connection, he came alive.  Moreover, it was not just Joe who came alive; each of us at the Center came alive as well.

Loss is a familiar feeling here; we lose so many to death, jail, mental illness and the streets.    It can take its toll.  These simple rituals are important moments to celebrate.

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ”. (Ephesians 2: 13)

 

South Side Hospitality

As part of my second year of Novitiate, I had the opportunity to learn, meet and share more closely in the Reconciliation Center of the Precious Blood in Chicago (PBMR).  How can I describe my experience during these three months?  PBMR is a special and unique place; the first thing that you notice is that every person is welcome!   When people come into the center there is always a cup of coffee or tea to offer them.  This is a very nice way to welcome each person and make each one feel special and honored!  Sitting down then at the welcome table  usually a very pleasant conversation is initiated with some of the young people who attend the program or one of the mothers or some other visitor, this gives a warm feeling and a feeling of being at home.

During my 3 month summer time experience, I had the opportunity to interact with many different people in various activities. One of the activities was helping in the garden, being there I began to realize how the people marvel at seeing the garden with so many fresh vegetables. It was very nice to see people leaving the garden so happy with their vegetables and talking about how they would prepare them. The garden and flowers located in the center of the Reconciliation Center offer the neighbors a nice and healing space to meet and contemplate      the beauty of God in nature.

I was able to realize that the needs that comes each day to PBMR are diverse and often times   are difficult to hear.  However it is the offering time to listen, just being present, providing  a safe place where stories can be told and youth can share their fears and concerns in circle with others who understand.  It is about giving a helping hand, and encouraging our youth to discover their talents and to dream of living beyond 25.  This type of presence may not be noticeable to the naked eye but so helps our youth feel supported and motivated to continue making their way toward a better future.

It is very exciting for me, as a native Guatemalan, to see PBMR inviting the Hispanic families who live in the neighborhood to a closer relationship.  Because I speak Spanish I was able to assist with connecting Hispanic families with PBMR.  As I became more acquainted with the neighborhood, I could welcome our Hispanic neighbors to the Restorative Justice Café’ at PBMR.   There we had space and time to talk about of different topics and the many struggles that they have to face.  We gathered and shared stories, food and laughter, showing solidarity with each other but also celebrating our joys and having such a welcoming place.

The opportunity to share with the mothers that participate in PBMR made me think a lot about God’s love because when someone asks, how much can a mother love her child? The answer could be a mother has a huge heart to love into infinity. But truth is that their love does goes beyond to the infinite because they walk with their children regardless of the circumstances.  Some of the families have children incarcerated, murdered, caught up in the streets and they remain steadfast in their love for their children It is such an example of unconditional love, the same love God has for all of us!

This has been an experience of Faith and Action because the Amen that I profess in the Eucharist and I will profess on December 9 when I profess my first vows as a Sister of the Precious Blood invites me to meet my brothers and sisters who suffer in different ways in our society with that same unconditional love.   I feel my main call is to love, to serve and walk with the suffering even when it is not easy.   It is Christ who unites us through his Precious Blood and invites us to be Eucharist, to be givers of life in our broken world, to bring hope, healing and hospitality especially to those who feel “far off”.

GLORY TO THE BLOOD OF JESUS!

Stars in the Making

Into my 14th year volunteering at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, I thought I had seen it all, but last week an 18 year old resident charged with first degree murder came after me with a pair of sharp scissors.  Not to worry, since Freddie is a student in the newly established STAR (Standing Tall Against Recidivism) Barber College at the Detention Center, and I volunteered to have him give me a haircut.

Admittedly, we were both a little nervous. This was only Freddie’s second week cutting hair, and his previous customers were African-Americans or Latinos who just needed their hairs lined up and trimmed. He didn’t know what to make of the full head of hair on this 63 year old white guy who had not changed his hairstyle in 40 years.  Well, it turned out great, and I could tell that Freddie was very proud of his work.  I was too.  Other than their hot towel massage, Sports Clips has nothing on the STAR Barber College.

In the past, lack of productive programming was one of the major criticisms I had with the Detention Center operations.  The facility served as a warehouse for the detained youth, with residents playing endless hands of the card game Spades, and watching daily episodes of Jerry Springer.  The prior administration often emphasized that the Detention Center was “Temporary,” so there was little need to implement programs because of the short term duration of the residents’ stay.  Tell that to the many juveniles charged as adults, since their stays often last one to two years as they await adjudication of their cases.

That lack of programming appears to be changing.  There are now programs in storytelling, where youth write and perform in plays; classes in music composition and performance; a commercial painting program; and an excellent writing and poetry program.  The recently established Barber College was a welcome addition, as evidenced by the fact that over 100 youth applied to participate, 20 were interviewed, and 8 were accepted into the first class, including 1 girl (there are only about a dozen females incarcerated at the Detention Center). The course is rigorous, with the students attending class 4 days a week, 5 hours a day.  Those who complete the course can earn their State license, and go on to a successful career as a Barber.

I don’t know what Freddie’s long term future holds, but he can count on me as a repeat customer next month.

(Mike Donovan is volunteer staff person with PBMR)

The Real Scream

My name is Magdalena.   I come from Poland.   I appreciate my country but I never feel that Poland is my place in the world. I hope to find this place someday, so I am open to learning about new cultures and about the world in general.

I grew up in a wonderful family.   My parents’ love is the most beautiful love I have seen in this world;    I always know I am wanted and that my brother and I are the fruits of this beautiful love.  I have had a very blessed life.

In Poland I study Psychology.   As part of my program, I was required to complete an internship. I did not know that my placement would combine everything I had been dreaming about, such as, practicing English, spending time in a beautiful place, and experiencing the spirituality of the Precious Blood on another continent.

As always, G

od has taken care of my desires and me.  He gave me the opportunity to come to the United States and Chicago’s Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. I had no idea what my internship would be like or what I would do there, so my travel was full of fear. Fortunately, God is also in America, and put so many wonderful people in my path (especially the CPPS sisters with whom I live!) so that my fears disappeared in the blink of an eye.

So what do I do in the Center? I am present and I participate. My responsibility at PBMR was to walk with the people I met and get to know their way of living, their mentality, and their stories.  Therefore,   I was entrusted with the most beautiful duty in the world. Before my arrival, I thought that my psychology background would be helpful in some way and that I would be serving people more than receiving services from others. So when I found myself at PBMR, I felt lost because it was completely the opposite of what I imagined before I came here.

Exactly a month ago I flew to Chicago and now I am already experiencing what I had read and thought about in Poland – living the spiritual life deep in my heart.

Many times in my life I heard the answer to this question: “What is the spirituality of the Precious Blood for you?” The most beautiful answer I heard at PBMR this July: “This is the spirituality that gathers people. Those who are more open invite those who have less courage to come.” This remark refreshed my outlook, because I know it’s not just joining the community, but inviting everyone to join in this common path to the most beautiful place of peace and safety.

Who are the people who have more courage to invite others to this common path? A month ago I would have said they are very well-established Catholics.   Today’s words: they are all those who have experienced being invited, wanted, accepted.   I have personally experienced how the people who get hurt so badly can beautifully invite others.

I thought that as a well-established Catholic, coming from a wonderful family, having a psychology background, I would initiate a joint trip down this path. I guess I thought I would be a guide, someone important. I had made my best plan to spend time here and I had specific expectations, and it turned out very differently!

I found myself being a psychologist then a patient, student and teacher, sheep and shepherd helper, the one who listens and the one who shares, the one who gives hope and the one searching for hope.

I was a psychologist when I talked to people about their lives, problems, and successes, especially when I was just listening; a patient when the listening was too overwhelming and I needed support myself.

Student: all the time, when I had language problems, when I was asking about culture and customs, when I wanted to understand the stories of people I met, and when I did not know what to order in a restaurant.

Teacher, when people asked me: “How is it in Poland?”, “What is your story?”, “Does your nation still feel the effects of war?” and finally: “Where is your Poland?”  I was a sheep who knew she was in the right place and in the right flock, who felt good about other sheep, regardless of whether they were black or white, young or old….

I was a shepherd’s helper who was sitting at the back of the clearing and watching the sheep, thinking intensely about what exactly was missing and helping to see what at first sight I missed. I was also the one who listened when people shared their stories: stories of a brutally murdered beloved child, of a 17-year-old boy being sentenced to death in prison, of a newborn who died after not receiving proper care after birth because of his race and whose body was put in a peanut butter jar.

I heard the story of a black father who loved and cared for his son but whose rights to see his son were taken away by the white mother. I listened to the stories of many people who are constantly traumatized, boys who have been shot several times by the age of 15, who at the same age have become fathers bravely educating their children, boys who have seen so much blood shed that this image will never disappear from their eyes.

I heard the story of a woman whose husband was murdered and she asked the court for the smallest amount of punishment for the perpetrator and the story of a Puerto Rican man who had been shot 15 times, paralyzed, and today is walking once again on his own legs and working to make the area safer.

I listened to the story of a young man who participated in a brutal murder and today is considered a member of the murdered boy’s family. I listened to so many stories of people who have gone so far and have come back hopeful.

I was also the one who shared – with what I had, whether I considered it rich or poor. I was trying to be the one giving hope: hope that life can be beautiful, that not every man/woman/child need struggle with such pain and fear, that everyone deserves a good life because we were called to it, because God created all people to share the beautiful and the good and know happiness.

And finally, I was at PBMR center when two people who were shot in a nearby alley and lay bleeding on the ground. Their cry was not a metaphorical “blood scream”, which we try to hear in Poland. Their sound was the voice of true, untreated suffering, which resulted in surgery and prolonged paralysis.

I experienced all this at the age of 23 by participating in the life of PBMR. I experienced the strength of suffering and realized that it is an extraordinary wealth. I experienced joy, which has its roots in the pain, which makes it only more beautiful and true. I experienced love despite weakness. I experienced a life of reconciliation, which will not be forgotten until the end of my life.

Magdalena Stasiak