Monastery of the Prodigal Son by Mikhail Markhasev
Working in’a prison chapel is not unlike a box of chocolates: it should be plain and simple, but you never know what you're gonna get. In here, the sacred and the profane blur into an undiscernable stew of characters and circumstances, radiating faith and folly, seeking a slice of Heaven within the half-baked pie of our Hell.
Thankfully, our facility's designated place of worship is an unassuming cluster of cubicles huddled around the main chapel room, like tiny cities of" refuge amidst the sea of insanity which is the yard. Not long ago the chapel served a haunt for drug deals, sexual acts, and "handling business.” In fact, some years back, a man was beaten to death during a religious service: a tragic reminder that there's nothing sacred in prison. The sacred space for worship can quickly morph into a sacreligious den where one meets his Maker.
Recently, the chaplain called in a prisoner for an unexpected sit down.
This is seldom a good sign... We watched in anxious anticipation as this.man's uncertain steps found their way to the office. There, he heard what no parent should ever face: his son was murdered the day before as he was coming home from work.
When I was summoned into the chap's office, the distraught father barely got off the phone with.his family, still reeling from shock and trying to comprehend the reasoning behind his child getting gunned down for no apparent reason. As pain gripped his face, the father grappled with realization that his child was going to be buried before him and thathe will be absent at his own son's funeral, just as he was absent during most of his son's life... Memory, that last bastion of a prisoner's private treasury, always flickers with the glimer of hope that the joys of the past can at least be rekindled in some vaguely possible future, beyond the horizon of rigid prison sentences. Death quenches that hope, and replaces it with the jagged reality of what is forever lost. More so, the prisoner will not be able to console his grieving family, as the ripples of shock, anger & disbelief saturated their hearts, and now his grief would eat away at him in this miserable abode, where, as a rule, misery always finds company.
Death notice in prison is often a normal procedure served without anesthesia in our abnormal concrete den of iniquity. we sin against persons and society, and one of the most painful wages of our sins is to be acutely aware when those whom your heart holds dear suddenly tumble through the gorges of death to be seen or heard no more on this side of eternity. The pillars of our lives gradually collapse and are smashed into the dust of silent non—being by the brevity of life. One is left with angst and emptiness in a place which couldn't care less, among men who, like you, are simply busy battling for survival.
Beholding the weeping father, I related to him not only as a fellow prisoner and ”lifer” -— who will eventually lose everyone to the yawning jaws of insatiable death -- but also as a murderer, who had caused the same tsunami of unquenchable grief in another's family life when I murdered in cold blood their son, brother, loved one in a senseless crime with no apparent reason other than my own blind lust and self-absorbed obsession. The tears I watched fall from the eyes of the father before me must have fallen from the father's eyes of the man
I murdered, even as his family was forced to bury their precious family member,
3 along with the love they poured into him and which they received in return, long before his time on earth was supposed to cease.
In prison, I cannot face the many persons whose souls I've irreparably shattered, but on this day in the chapel, I had to face what I did, and behold another bereaved parent ascend his personal agonizing Golgotha because of malicious hands which robbed him of his son and his family of a loved, just as I did to another family many years ago...
Like I said, there are no sacred spaces in prison, but all things can be sanctified through willing hearts of those who seek what is holy and wholesome.
The buildings made of concrete and steel are often stained with violence and mayhem, but there is another edifice here, one made of flesh: the living heart. which.pulsates with pains and hopes, and which yearns for redemption, even when that redemption is buried beneath a mountain of sin, beneath the multi-faceted masks we wear, hiding ourselves from others and even from ourselves... It is here, in the heart, that the God and Maker of all meets the man who has wandered far from his home, from the shadow of some paradise lost long ago, in a distant life beyond the razor-wired walls. After a season in here, it's so easy to blend into the stained surroundings of this hardened place. To blend into this environment means to embrace spiritual death by simply surrendering to it. The other option is to begin the painful journey home, a home which first of all must be reconquered and carved out within one's soul.
This is the path of restorative justice: extracting life from the jaws of death through the humbling process of repentance. It begins by heeding the still, small voice in one's heart which beckons the man beyond his callous indifference and paralyzing dejection about the past. The voice of conscience calls toward the promise of life and light, toward redemption and resurrection through some power greater than himself, the mystery of the unknown God Who
4 brings us into the world and keeps us when we canft keep ourselves.
Traveling on this path means facing the wrecks I have made during my lifels journey & understanding the tremendous degree of my indebtedness to those who suffered because of me. As a murderer, I am living on borrowed time -- borrowed from the innocent life I took —— and the time I am afforded in prison is given to me to change and to strive to do the most good I possibly can, before God calls me to account for my life. This means stepping out of t he comfortable darkness of denial, excuses, and blaming others for the things that did not go right. Rather, I must take responsibility for what I have done and for who I had become.
What is responsibility? It is my ability to respond to the life God gave me and to what I have done with it. The expectation of my existence requires me to claim my post on the battlefield of life. If my past is a shameful narrative of how I deserted my position or turned my weapons and abilities against my neighbors, then I must honestly admit my wrongs and strive to undo them. My past I wrong cannot become the final word in my life. Unless by God's grace my personal evil is transfigured into some good greater than the harm I caused, then my life is akin to a cosmic black hole which swallows light and entire galaxies, but produced nothing: remaining an irrational pit of destruction against the backdrop of an ordered universe where everything tends to a purpose greater than itself, toward a recovery of life which is temporarily dimmed by the inevitability of death. This same mission of life toward redemption is what I hope for and strive towards, the recovery of what has been lost and demolished on both sides of the barbed wire.
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.