Photo: Tony Avelar/Christian Science Monitor
From the Christian Science Monitor:
In the soft light of early evening, the smell of curried chilies wafts through the screen door of this two-story, Craftsman-style house in a tidy section of South Los Angeles. As bicycle bells jingle and ice-cream trucks pass by, four men sit in rockers, telling their stories of life in prison to a visiting journalist.
All four spent 30 to 35 years in prison for murder. All four have been released to this halfway house to get their bearings before moving on with their lives. All four identify strongly with the character of Brooks Hatlen in the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption”: a man who is paroled after more than three decades behind bars and is so disoriented by the prospect of starting a new life in a world he no longer understands that he commits suicide.
And all four credit a woman sitting on the wide porch alongside them, Sister Mary Sean Hodges, for why they won’t follow in Brooks’s footsteps. Each has a gratitude and regard that wells up from deep within for the Roman Catholic nun with mercury-colored hair.
“If it weren’t for Sister Mary Sean, I wouldn’t be here,” says Tom (not his real name). Tom heard about Sister Hodges when she visited Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, where he was serving a sentence for shooting a man in a bar in 1981.
Tom had just received a letter from his sister, who told him to stop asking her for money. Eyes tearing up, he tells of how Hodges immediately filled the spiritual gap he was feeling with calming words about the grace of God. The two began a written correspondence that culminated with his arrival here just weeks before.
The house is clean and well appointed: nice bathrooms, a large kitchen, and a small yard out back with a vegetable garden. Tom is one of 15 men living here now, courtesy of a program begun by Hodges.
The house is one of five she operates in South Los Angeles. Altogether, the program shelters 60 men.