Pornchai Maximilian Moontri takes us behind These Stone Walls where he is the safety trainer for a captive audience producing some woodcraft marvelous to behold.
“I will stand on my watch, take up my station at the post, and wait to see what He will say to me… For the stones shall cry out from these walls and the woodwork shall answer.” (The Prophet Habakkuk 2:1,11)
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by our good friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri whose most recent post in these pages was “I Come to the Catholic Church for Healing and Hope.”
My whole life changed on April 10-11, 2010. I know you might have read this before, but maybe not from my point of view. I went to prison when I was 18 years old on March 21, 1992, and spent the next almost 14 years in despair. A lot of that despair was spent in solitary confinement and fed by deep remorse. I had given up on myself, on the human race, and on the possibility of things like trust and hope. They just didn’t exist in my world.
Then, in October, 2005, I was chained up, stuffed into a cage inside a prison van, and delivered to another prison. No worries. One hellhole is just like another. A few weeks into this one, however, the mostly unlikely friend I could ever have imagined walked into my life. He pulled me up from a deep, dark pit. He never even mentioned God to me. It would have driven me away.
But God had other ideas. Four years later, by the sheer force of grace, I became a Catholic. I received the Sacrament of Baptism on April 10, 2010. On the next day, April 11, I was Confirmed by Bishop John McCormack and received my First Eucharist in the New Hampshire State Prison chapel. It was also Divine Mercy Sunday, a fact that changed my whole life as it wove its threads through what my friend, Father G calls “The Great Tapestry of God.”
These Stone Wall started just nine months before that. It began in our cell. My friend, Father G. came in one day after being on the phone with a friend who read to him a long message from Suzanne Sadler in Australia. She offered to help start a blog about the plight of a falsely accused priest in prison. Prisons leave people outside the world of technology so neither one of us even knew what a blog was.
It meant committing to typing a weekly article in our cell. Father G said it could reach out into all parts of the world and maybe even have an impact on both our lives. I had no idea then how true that would become. I remember that we talked about ideas on what to call this thing.
Someone sent Father G a poem by Richard Lovelace, “Stone Walls do not a Prison Make,” so we thought of “My Stone Walls.” Father G was afraid it would give the impression that we actually like it here. For the record, we don’t. But we cannot deny the grace that has been found in this unlikely place. So I said, “How about “These Stone Walls,” and G said, “That’s it!” “That’s what we’re calling it!”
THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Father G once wrote a post called “The Days of our Lives” which made me laugh when I found out it was named after an American soap opera. So this is sort of “The Days of Our Lives Part II.”
When Father G asked me to write this guest post for These Stone Walls, I wondered what I would write about. He told me that his most-read TSW post of 2018 was about me – “Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night.”
He said it was read all over the world by thousands of people. It feels so strange to me that so many people now know my story. It was a story that I was once forced to keep secret, and it was
a terrible secret. It felt so heavy and hopeless for so many years. A few weeks ago, I had a dentist appointment at the prison medical center. A man working there came out of an office and said, “You’re Pornchai Moontri!” as he shook my hand. “I read all about you,” he said. “You are an inspiration.” I was shocked. No one in prison ever said that to me before.
I lived everything that is in this story, but I have not been able to read the four articles about it written by Father G, Clare and Malcolm Farr, and Father George David Byers. I am very grateful to them for their impact on my life. It is because of them that ‘I once told my friend “I woke up today with a future when up to now all I ever had was a past.” Father G does not wear his emotions openly, but that made him cry.
I hope readers understand that I just can’t read the accounts that my good friends have written. If you read Father G’s (linked at the end of this post) perhaps you will understand why. But Father G and I have talked about all of this every step of the way. I know this terrible story would not have been brought into the light without him – without all of them.
As we lived the days of our lives behind these walls over the last 14 years, I have been a witness to how all the things that Father G once told me have come to pass. One day when I was sinking back into darkness, G took me outside and we walked laps around a caged-in dirt area that everyone called “The Yard.”
Father G went through this mental exercise calculating for me the astronomical odds against our lives unfolding the way they have, and how we came to be in the same place and time. Math made sense to me, and I think this was the first time I felt the Hand of God guiding the days of our lives toward something way bigger than ourselves. Our daily discomforts meant less to me after that. I began to pray.
Every time there was a setback – there are many of them in prison – I found myself not buying so much into the past despair that consumed my life. We met my setbacks together, head-on, and I began to see that trust was the one thing that had been totally absent from my life. Because I began to pray I also began to trust. Prayer without trust is just empty words.
So here’s how I knew that trust was worth reaching for. One day I got a summons in the mail informing me that I would have a hearing in federal court. The hearing was done by video, and at the end of it an immigration judge ordered that I am to be deported to Thailand at whatever point I leave prison. I immediately began to reach for that same comfortable place: despair.
I was taken from Thailand at age 11 and barely remembered it. I had not even heard Thai spoken in three decades. I knew only America, and in all actuality, all I really knew about America was its prisons. I could not imagine how I would live. So Father G helped me with an appeal, but it was denied. So then he said, “We will have to find some connections in Thailand.”
“Yeah, right!” I thought. How does someone do that from half a world away in a prison cell? Father G wrote about this on These Stone Walls. Then Felix Carroll, publisher of Marian Helper magazine, was writing a book so he Googled “Divine Mercy conversions” and came across what Father G had written about me.
So Felix interviewed me and included a chapter about my life and conversion in his Marian Press book, Loved, Lost, Found 17 Divine Mercy Conversions.
The book made its way around the world, including in Thailand. The next thing I knew, Father G was writing a post, “Knock and the Door Will Open: Divine Mercy in Bangkok Thailand.” It’s all about how doors suddenly opened for me in Thailand and how a future that I never thought possible evolved from that.
The book was also read by Clare and Malcolm Farr, advocates in Western Australia who became instrumental in this story. Their TSW guest posts (linked at the end of this post) tell the story of Divine Mercy in action and the threads it wove for me around the world and in my own soul.
Our friend, Father George David Byers (also linked at the end) wrote about the “Irony Incarnate” in this story. Since then, I have learned – painfully but I hope with some honor – the hardest lesson of all: that being the recipient of such mercy means that I must also practice it. I can’t forget what Father G wrote in a recent post: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)
KNOCK ON WOOD
A lot has been happening here behind these stone walls. My friend, Father G has just started a new job as the one and only law library clerk serving 1,500 men in this prison. Every prison
has to have a law library and a full-time clerk. So when the job came open he was asked if he would take it. It’s a real challenge for him because he took it on suddenly, and all his training is “on-the-job” training.
And his new job came with a pay raise. His pay jumped from $2.00 per day to $2.15 per day. We have been trying to figure out how he will spend that extra 75¢ cents per week. I earn the same pay he does, but prison work for both of us is not about how much we can make, but rather how many we can help.
So Father G spends his days behind a desk now, helping prisoners to complete and file hundreds of complicated state and federal legal forms for everything from legal motions, to medical planning, to power of attorney forms, legal medical releases, divorce petitions, and applications for drug court and addictions treatment. Father G eventually connects with just about everyone in this prison in the most difficult times of their lives.
He just finished his third week there and is still finding his way. This is why he asked me to write this guest post. We both work Monday through Friday from 07:00 AM until 14:30 PM, so now all the TSW posts have to be typed in our cell on Saturday. Well, Father G can type one on a Saturday. This one took me a week, one page at a time. People here ask me if the constant “tap-tap-tap” of the typewriter every Saturday drives me crazy, but for me it is like music. It is our connection with you.
I also have a job that I like very much. I have been working on my own projects in the woodworking shop that is part of the “HobbyCraft” project here. Last year I also became the Safety Trainer. I teach new workers in the woodworking shop how to use all the equipment, and how to map out their projects to order the wood that they will need.
Prisoners in the wood shop purchase their own lumber from a local vendor, and then I show them how to use a Radial Arm Saw to cut the rough lumber. I also train them on using the planers, chop saw, table saws, band saws, routers, shapers, and the lathes which are in three sizes for woodturning projects.
I also save to purchase wood for my own projects. Most of the items I have created in recent years are smaller items such as keepsake boxes, a Divine Mercy box, mantle clocks, and wood-turned pen sets made from olive wood imported from the Holy Land.
Lots of the items I have made are featured on a Pinterest board called “Woodworking and Model Shipbuilding by Pornchai Maximilian Moontri.” Below is the most recent keepsake box that I designed and crafted from mahogany with a basswood inlay in the top engraved with a wood burned image of the Praying Hands. The inside is finished with velour.
I have lately been working on some larger furniture projects.
The photo at the top of this post is me with a round dining table that I designed and created. It is solid maple, 48-inches in diameter and 32-inches in height. Below is another photo of the same table emphasizing the legs which are also solid maple wood-turned with a lathe. I have just been asked to custom build a slightly smaller version of the same table.
The table below is called a sofa table. It is made from solid cortisone oak and the legs are made from cherry. It is 30-inches high and 36-inches in length.
The cabinet below was custom-made to requested specifications. It is made from cherry with raised panel doors. It is 48-inches high.
But as wonderful as it is to work with wood, none of this is the wood that sets me free. That comes next week. Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the world.
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please share this post on Facebook and other social media. The story of Pornchai Moontri is an epic of immense importance for the cause of social justice and for the Church. As Catholics consider leaving their faith over the abuse scandal, Pornchai found the only healing and hope he has ever known in the Catholic Church.
- Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night by Father Gordon MacRae
- When Justice Came to Pornchai Moontri, Mercy Followed by Clare Farr
- The Pain of Suffering and the Power of Forgiveness by Malcolm Farr
- Fr. Gordon MacRae & Pornchai Moontri: Captives of Irony Incarnate by Father George David Byers