I Went to Jail Today

Once a month I go to the state pen to teach an apologetics class. Most of the prisoners here in South Carolina (like most of the population) are not Catholic, and some of the more extreme Protestants like picking theological fights with the minority Catholics. So the guys all have a copy of my book More Christianity and we discuss it chapter by chapter.

I’m getting to know the guys and I like them a lot. There’s not much room for guile and image games in prison. You pretty much take it as it comes. What you see is what you get. I don’t think I’m being naive about this. The fellows inside are criminals, but who isn’t? They’re just the ones who broke the law.

From my experience doing prison work and dealing with people I’m convinced that we’re all criminals in one way or another, and when I talk to people with addiction problems it seems to me that we’re all addicts too. It’s just that some people have socially acceptable addictions, and some people commit terrible crimes that they can’t be locked up for.

Let me give some examples. These stories are all more or less true. To protect the people involved I’ve changed details and conflated stories, but the essence of the stories are true. Judge for yourselves who the real criminals are: [Read More]



  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    “Your addiction is to a false happiness.” What ails the West in 7 words.

  • Julie C.

    I loved this post, Father! You are so right, as always!

  • http://lesfemmes-thetruth.blogspot.com Mary Ann Kreitzer

    Great post, Father. I went to jail several times in the 70s and 80s for rescuing at abortion mills. The first time, I discovered that most of the women in my cellblock were there for writing bad checks to get drugs. But they were basically decent young women from difficult backgrounds. The experience was one of those “there but for the grace of God…” awakenings.

  • Max Lindenman

    Don’t forget the four magic words: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

  • Paul H

    Father, is it possible that you can do something about your new blog formatting? I have never liked the fact that I have to click on “Read More” to read the second part of each post on your blog. But now I have to click “Read More” twice, once to read the complete first part of the post, and then again to read the second part of the post. That seems excessive and unnecessary.

    Also, do I understand correctly that these stories are based on things that you have heard in the sacrament of confession? I am not accusing you of breaking the seal of the confessional, since you say that you have changed the stories around somewhat, and since you didn’t give any names. Nevertheless, let me just say that I would feel uncomfortable going to confession with a priest if I knew that that priest would some day anonymize my story, change it around a little, and then post it on his blog. Just food for thought.

    Sorry for having two negative comments. On the positive side, I thank you sincerely for doing prison ministry, which I think is extremely important work.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I’m sorry about the new blog format. These things are set up for us by the tech people at Patheos. I hope you will be patient with the ‘read more’ and click through to finish reading.

      The stories have been changed so much that the only bearing they have on the confessional is in the most general of ways. But thanks for your concern about this. I have change the post so that it does not give even the least bit of concern about this most important question.

      • Paul H

        Hi Father,

        I understand about your limitations on the blog formatting, and I have noticed that your more recent posts don’t have the second “Read More” link. I appreciate the change.

        Thanks also for understanding my concern about the confessional and for clarifying that point. Keep up the great work!

  • FW Ken

    I work with folks who come out of prison and appreciate your work inside. We have a lot of Christians – baptist/pentecostal types, mostly – who do work with our folks that complements our supervision beautifully. I am especially grateful to our volunteer chaplains who come into the offices and the folks who lead faith-based substance abuse groups.

    As a recovering alcoholic, it’s easy for me to agree with your points. The Twelve Steps of AA are truly a path to a godly life, when one seeks the Living God.

  • Greg Cook

    Thanks, Father. A few years back I taught two college classes at a prison and really enjoyed it: the students were lively, had intelligent comments, and were much more engaged than my “traditional” students.

  • http://ApostolatefortheDying@CatholicWeb.com Annamarie Short

    Our Apostolate for the Dying ministry would like to donate 100 booklets (has Imprimatur) on prayers for the dying, that the prison inmates can use. You mentioned this morning on Sacred Heart Radio that the inmates feel alone and abandoned, and could even pray for the dying. We pray for the dying throughout the world everyday. We will send the booklets to your parish in South Carolina if that is ok with you.
    God bless you in all that you do Father.
    Annamarie Short

  • bob

    This phrase, from #2, “Egged him on until he got a bit violent then staged a ‘police call’ against him…” is something straight out of the Troglodyte’s Handbook. Honestly, my head is spinning a little at the idea of a priest being so casually dismissive of violence, much less against a woman. As a man, I can tell you there’s no amount of “egging” that my wife or any woman could do that would cause me to “get a bit violent” with the exception of her being violent with me or a child, and even then it would only be to restrain and not strike her.

    I also wonder about the veracity of some of these tales. Father, can I guess that in virtually each case, you’re hearing about the “villain” from the “victim,” or from some third party who knows the “victim”? That you only have one half of the story, and that you’re assuming the half you heard is accurate?

    I’m not hear to defend the actions of these folks, but I do think, frankly, that you have a tendency to fall hook line and sinker for testimony that happens to comport with whatever worldview you’re communicating at the moment. Even when that testimony or piece seems really fishy. Your alleged “Muslim troll,” who as your commenters point out is probably someone trying to besmirch Muslims (with your help, of course!) is another example. I would suggest that you require of yourself a bit more rigor and apply a bit more skepticism when it comes to separating truth from that which we wish to be true (because it comports with our views).

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      The stories are composite fictions–made up of details from many stories that I have heard from people. However, although they are made up they are not exaggerated.