It is easy, I think, to romanticize the encounter, to weave my experience into a narrative of pity and sympathy than unjustly marginalizes the gravity of the inmates' crimes and the grief they inflicted on their victims. These men, after all, did some bad things. But they are also, more than most, at a kind of ground zero of the big moments in the life of faith. Sin, love, forgiveness, redemption: for the men on "yard" in Ironwood, those thrilled simply to add and subtract with a pencil and paper, the truth of these concepts is no academic matter, no fodder for blog warfare.
Perhaps more than anything, however, the experience has caused me to contemplate the essential otherness not of the prisoners, but of God. I think especially of Our Lord's unsettling words at Golgotha, where to the despised, rejected face of a crucified criminal, Christ said, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."