Images above and below are from the NYCHS webmaster's 2006 photos
of Rikers' closed penitentiary (aka JATC) inmate chapel. They do not appear
in the book but are added in this presentation because the book mentions the chapel.
. . . . On Rikers Island, where more than twenty thousand men and women are imprisoned, father is often a curse word.
How many families’ stories I have heard there, stories of fathers that can be summed up in broken hopes:
“It was my father who had put me in prison.”
“My father left; I never knew him.”
“I have just found my father here in prison. I had not seen him since I was eighteen.”
“I love blood and brawls. I never had a father to teach me to live.”
How is it possible to make the leap from these cages and these wounds to a God who wants to be close to us and make known the joy He has in store for us? . . . .
The first word, Our, of the Our Father raises us out of the depths.
We are no longer alone, wrapped in the solitude of death.
This Our binds me to the plural, the blessed plural of the communal dimension.
If I want to turn to God and honor His fatherhood and motherhood, I cannot bypass the brotherhood and sisterhood, the faith community that has chosen Jesus as its teacher and Lord. . . . .
Today, when people are forcibly marginalized, on Rikers Island and elsewhere; today, when many are sick because they have lost their identity or are isolated and. spiritually frigid, the light of the Our Father restores warmth.
There are, then, no longer any hermetically sealed borders or degrading exclusions. . . .
. . . . What Jesus offers when we pray and acknowledge his Father WHO ART IN HEAVEN is a broad and expansive understanding of heaven. It is not a material place; it is beyond everything and contains everything because it is God himself. The reality of God is called heaven. The fullness of life is there, far fuller life than on earth. . . .
The God who comes to heal our wounds comes even in the face of the worst situation.
We don’t need much experience to realize that there are situations in which everything conspires to make us lose heart; living at Rikers is one of them.
I do not excuse real guilt by exercising the easy freedom of a passerby giving no thought to a brutal act. I do not forget the many victims of crimes - or the wicked, who make prisons necessary.
But more than once I was struck by something else. So often I have sensed vast questions behind an affected confidence or a broken hope:
“I have done and experienced everything, and nothing lasts.”
“Mv father has already spent eleven years in prison and has just gone back in. My mother is on _ drugs and cannot help herself. And here I am on Rikers _ Island.”
“I cannot read in the cell block. It’s too dangerous for me. I have too many enemies here. I must always keep my eyes open and be off guard."
“I am suffering more in prison than I did in Vietnam.”
. . . . In the hell that can be ours on earth, we lose our bearings. But the Father in heaven seeks union with us here on earth and is ready to help. The important word to remember is union. Without it. we are alone, each of us hopelessly struggling. Jesus invites us to seek union with the Father and each other. We are brothers and sisters. the children of our Father.
As a priest friend of mine used to say: “A psychologist can define a loving person. But he cannot explain people loving one another.”
In other words, our very desire for union and mutual love is a revelation, a gift of God . . . .
. . . . I remeniber a Rikers prisoner coming to ask. “Father, can you pray tor my daughter?”
“Yes,” I assured him, “but what is her name?”
“I forget,” he said.
Naturally I felt sorrv for the man and his daughter, yet that incident has often made me reflect with gratitude on how God never forgets any of our names.
A person's official identification is a number. Because of this, nicknames abound:
“Little,” “Fat,” “Shorty,” “Hollywood and so on.
As in all caricatures, individuals are known by their most obvious traits and, alas, those most lacking in “spirit.”
The final tragedy is to die on Rikers Island, having given the authorities an alias.
These men have no identity and are totally unknown; the authorities cannot inform anyone outside about the death.
To a false name and false address is added the oblivion of burial in Potters Field on Hart Island, New York; the loss in human terms is now complete.
All that is left is God’s remembrance and mercy. For in his sight there is no incomplete file, no unidentified soul. . . . .
....His Name says it all as we can read the poster in the chapel of the House of Detention for Men [JATC] at Rikers: