Images above 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 an April day in 1993 Catholic Charities called, offering a Mott Haven building at 342 Willis Avenue. Its name was Fifteenth Station, Inc./My Family Place,” a shelter for ten or so men who, after the administration had pulled out of the program, had become squatters and trashed the building.
All we had to do was to tell Catholic Charities that we were interested. It would take five months to make the place livable, but we rejoiced at having a starting point.
On Easter Sunday, April 11, three Little Sisters of the Gospel and myself signed leases for apartments close by our forlorn building.
The start-up money for the renovation came from Belgium, the native country of Sister Simone Ponnet, who would become Abraham House’s executive director and who, for nineteen years, has been chaplain at Rikers Island.
In 1992, Sister Simone was invited to speak on Belgian television about her ministry with prisoners. Many people were moved and provided financial help.
From France, too, we found benefactors. This money was a godsend, financing the renovations that Tito, a contractor friend, undertook.
Of course, the money didn’t last long, but other Belgians vacationed with us, and spent time cleaning, painting and helping in whatever way was needed. By September we had beds for twelve residents, a clean yard and a magnificent chapel.
We decided to call this place Abraham House for many reasons. Abraham is the father of believers. He was a man on a journey throwing himself fully into his calling. He knew how to trust. He was an old man, with a whole life behind him, and yet a man of the future. He obeyed completely because he believed.
Abraham was a man of hospitality, of prayer, of intercession, who said to God many times:
“If there are people in the city who are just, you would spare the city, wouldn’t you?” And then there is the beginning of chapter 15 in Genesis: “Don’t be afraid, Abram; I am your shield.”
Since at Rikers the word shield means the badge that allows a person to go freely through all doors, it seems only appropriate to recall this Old Testament line: “Don’t be afraid, Abram; I am your shield.” The last, but not the least reason for calling this place Abraham House was the fact that the biblical patriarch is held in honor by Jews, Moslems and Christians, all of whom are welcome here.
We finally dedicated Abraham House on September 29,
1993. Our chapel was too small for the seventy or eighty
people who came. Joining Manhattan Auxiliary Bishop
Patrick V. Ahern were our friends, those who know that
this house exists because Rikers exists.
. . .
Based on the author’s years of reflection while
working with prisoners on’Rikers Island, this
book examines the Lord’s Prayer by taking
one line per chapter and opening up the
meaning of each to the fullest. Father Raphael uncovers
how the Our Father can be translated behind prison bars,
how it can speak to the daily lives of prisoners and how it
can shed the light of hope into their utter darkness.
Yet, this book speaks not just to prisoners. The Lord’s Prayer is a universal prayer, a prayer that can speak to every person regardless of life circumstances or social statiding. Until we discover and live the full freedom of God’s children, we are all, in one way or another, prisoners. Centered in the experience of the human heart, these pages offer deep insight into this prayer and to the God who always reaches out to the imprisoned.
PIERRE RAPHAEL, a French worker-priest has lived among, labored alongside and ministered to pour and working-class people for nearly forty years. He is co-founder of Abraham House in the Sonth Bronx, a residence program for prisoners, ex-prisoners and juvenile delinquents that offets an alternative to incarceration, and author of Inside Rikers Island: A Chaplain's Search for God.