Felix Carroll’s great Divine Mercy book, Loved, Lost, Found profiled the conversion of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, and set in motion this Mother’s Day gift.
“Every mile into the woods is a mile out again.” It’s hard to imagine that profound snippet of wisdom was conveyed to me as a child by the same woman who once screamed at me in her Newfoundland brogue from a second floor window, “IF YOU FALL OUT OF THAT BLOODY TREE AND BREAK YER LEG, DON’T COME ARUNNIN’ TO ME!” I remembered my mother, and recalled these quotes, in one of my favorite posts of 2013 on These Stone Walls, “Mother’s Day Promises to Keep, and Miles to Go Before I Sleep.”
Consider reading it anew for Mother’s Day this year, and if you find it worthy, please share it – and this one – with others. That tribute to Mother’s Day is one of my favorite posts because it also delves into the deeper meaning of one of my favorite poems, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Our friend, Father George David Byers, wrote of that post:
“Father Gordon J. MacRae has written a truly awe inspiring post, ‘Mother’s Day Promises to Keep, and Miles to Go Before I Sleep.’ It provides a hauntingly, hauntingly, hauntingly calming, wonderful, ever so peaceful and yet blazingly incisive interpretation of Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ If you’ve never liked poetry, you’ll now rush out and buy anthologies….”
No one but Father George could get away with using “blazingly” in a sentence, but I doubt the publishers of poetry anthologies are feeling very indebted to me since then. To be honest, I think I’d rather have a root canal than read a poetry anthology. I can’t say I love poetry. Most is simply lost on me. But I do love THAT poem, though I never really understood it until I lifted its lid to glance inside. Robert Frost stored a very large treasure in a very small box.
If Frost’s “Stopping by Woods” is a metaphor for life and death as I proposed in last year’s Mother’s Day post, then our friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri has emerged from the woods to a new life. This image of the woods sets the scene for a wonderful story that gets to the very heart of parental love. It’s a true story that should warm your heart and soul, and settle once and for all the point raised by Robert Frost in the first line of “Stopping by Woods.” Frost wrote, “Whose woods these are, I think I know.” After this story, I am left with no doubt about whose woods these are.
Our story begins with Felix Carroll’s great Divine Mercy book, Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions (Marian Press, 2013). After Felix published the book with its now well known “Chapter 11” about Pornchai Moontri’s conversion and his new middle name – “Maximilian” – the account opened doors for him around the world. I just this moment realized the unintended irony in the fact that the chapter on Pornchai is “Chapter 11” in this wonderful book. Felix Carroll’s account is the polar opposite of what “Chapter 11” usually implies. He wrote of Pornchai’s emergence from a life of loss upon loss to one of faith and hope built upon Divine Mercy.
Having stood in those rays of Divine Mercy, as Felix Carroll so deftly described, Pornchai emerged from the edge of the woods into a new life. To spread word of this conversion and Pornchai’s new name after Loved, Lost, Found was published, a TSW reader set up a Facebook page under the name, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri. I’ll return to that, but first I must cross over to another part of this story.
FACES ON THE WALL
In a September 2010 post, “Angelic Justice: Saint Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed,” I described some of the images on our cell wall, and mentioned that on Pornchai’s side of the wall is “a photo of Joe and Karen Corvino, the foster parents whose patience impacted his life.” I’ve been staring at that photo for five years.
Long before I wrote “Angelic Justice” in 2010, I asked Pornchai about them. He told me that Joe and Karen were his foster parents when he was 15 to 17 years old, and were among the most influential people in his life. He said they wanted to adopt him at the time, but circumstances led to his ending up living on the streets and then going to prison. “Pornchai’s Story” told that tale, and his recent guest post, “I Come to the Catholic Church for Healing and Hope,” continued it.
When I wrote “Angelic Justice” four years ago, Pornchai asked me how we could find Joe and Karen. He heard they might have relocated from Maine to New Jersey, but when I asked others to help search for them on-line we came up blank. I remember telling Pornchai that we cannot find them, but that sooner or later they will find us.
This unveils one of the great handicaps of writing from prison. With no Internet access whatsoever, Pornchai and I have never even seen These Stone Walls or the Facebook and Linked-In pages others established for us. Except for what is printed and sent to us, we are blind and cannot see any of what you see. We cannot search for anyone, and in fact when we both came to prison, blogs, Facebook, and Google did not even exist. We count entirely on others to be our digital eyes and ears, and just about everyone we know out there is very busy. We sometimes fall through the digital cracks.
However, we also had no way to know that during the last few years Joe and Karen Corvino were searching for Pornchai as well. They had his prison address in Maine, but their letters were returned to them with “Addressee Unknown” because Pornchai had been transferred to NH in 2007. Joe and Karen learned of this when they asked a friend to help in the search.
The way mail is handled here is one of the cruelest aspects of prison life. It is simply presumed that no one in the outside world has any interest in contacting anyone in here. Several years ago, this prison changed its numbering system for prisoner identification. My number was 22448, but was suddenly changed in 2008 to 67546. Pornchai’s was changed as well (it’s now 77948). We were expected to anticipate everyone who might write to us in the future and notify them of the number change. Because Joe and Karen Corvino found Pornchai’s number – but the older one – their mail to him was marked “Return to Sender, Addressee Unknown” despite his name being clearly on the envelope, and despite him being the only person of that name in this prison. No effort whatsoever was made to notify either of us that mail was being refused without our ever seeing it.
A LINK IN THE CHAIN FROM CINCINNATI
So when their letters to Pornchai were returned to them, Joe and Karen thought Pornchai had been moved elsewhere, or even deported to Thailand. All the while, Pornchai hoped that wherever they were, they might find him. Then, on Pornchai’s 40th birthday on September 10, 2013, Joe and Karen found the “Pornchai Maximilian Moontri” Facebook page, and wondered where “Maximilian” came from. The message they posted was:
”Hey Pornchai, Happy Birthday our Son. We tried to write to you since you went to New Hampshire but our letters came back stamped not the right address?? If you see this Facebook post send us your correct address and number next to your name. Blessings. We love you, Joe.”
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once wrote, “I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.” Mrs. Lavern West, a TSW reader in Cincinnati, took that to heart. Two months later, Mrs. West went to that Facebook page and saw Joe’s message.
At first, she thought, surely someone must have seen this message around the time of Pornchai’s birthday and printed it for him, but that didn’t happen. Lavern West clicked on the message to go to Joe’s own page, and left a reply. She didn’t want to post Pornchai’s address publicly, so she left a private reply which, she now says, “went to cyber heaven.” Joe never saw it, but Lavern did not know that.
Months later when Pornchai posted his TSW guest post, “I Come to the Catholic Church for Healing and Hope,” Lavern went again to Joe Corvino’s Facebook page and again left a message – this time with a link to the post. Lavern described this in a recent letter to me:
“This just proves that God can use the most inept instruments to bring about good. Here I am an 81-year-old woman that happened upon Facebook, a computer feature I could very well do without, and it was this that brought Joe and Karen to be reunited with their foster son, Pornchai.”
Then, after Pornchai’s guest post in March, I telephoned Charlene Duline in Indianapolis so she could read me any new comments. I won’t forget the moment. “This next one,” Charlene said, “is from someone named Joe Corvino.” “Joe Corvino,” I repeated. “JOE CORVINO!!!” I quickly took out a pen, and then asked Charlene to help me post a reply. If you go to the comments on Pornchai’s recent guest post, you will see this whole exchange. After writing down Joe’s comment, I went to our cell where Pornchai was on his upper bunk reading. It was a moment he waited a long time for.
“Pornchai,” I said, “We have a comment on your TSW guest post from Joe Corvino.” I had never before seen someone sit up that fast! We both simultaneously looked at Joe and Karen’s photo on the wall as though they were actually here. Days later, long letters arrived for both Pornchai and me from Joe and Karen. Joe described that “someone named Lavern sent us a link to your amazing article!” “I could just kiss that Mrs. West!” Pornchai said. I think she plans to take him up on it!!
It took a few days to add Joe and Karen to Pornchai’s list of people he may call, but after many years apart, they have now heard each others’ voices, and have spoken several times since. Joe and Karen now live in North Carolina, and not so very far from our friend, Father George David Byers, who plans to visit with them soon.
Joe and Karen have since filled in some of what was missing from “Pornchai*s Story.” They described what led up to their losing Pornchai, though they now know this Mother’s Day that the person they love and lost was not lost forever. They told the story of his life that occurred just before “Chapter 11” in Felix Carroll’s book. Here is some of what Joe Corvino wrote, published with his permission, and Pornchai’s:
“Karen and I started working as volunteers with recovery groups at the Maine Youth Center after we moved to Maine in 1988. That was where I first met Pornchai who was age 15. Sometime later, I was asked by the youth center to take a kid who was being discharged up to the Goodwill Hinkley School for an intake process. Yep, that kid was Pornchai. In the two hour drive, that skinny little Thai kid started to grow on me.
“After the intake, Pornchai was admitted to the school. I took him to the school cafeteria for lunch and there met the director who offered my wife and me a job on the spot as house parents after hearing of our work with rehabilitation. Days later when Karen and I accepted, we were assigned to Whitney Cottage, one of a dozen cottages housing students. Guess who opened the door on the day we arrived! It was Pornchai, smiling from ear to ear. “Hi Joe,” he said with his heavy Thai accent. I knew immediately this was where God wanted us. Karen took to Pornchai just as I did, as though he were our own son, and from that day forth he was and is. He remained there with us until he was 17, and he excelled. We always knew, however, about the great harm that abuse had caused to Pornchai. It only surfaced when he felt really provoked or threatened.
“One day at a soccer game toward the end of the season, some much larger kids on a rival school’s team knew they could not win as long as Pornchai was playing. So they tried to eliminate him from the game by provoking him with racial comments like “gook,” and “chink.” When that failed, they started physical body slams, and then when that didn’t work, they made the mistake of making derogatory remarks about his mother. It was a big mistake! One would have thought they were watching a Bruce Lee movie. Using just one foot at lightning speed, the three much larger teens were on the ground rubbing their heads.
“Life went on, but Pornchai became marked as a notorious scrapper. That was not at all the case. He was just a great kid who hated injustice and would stand up for anyone and for what he thought was right. He was forced to write a letter of apology to the rival school, and then, over our strenuous objections, was expelled.
“Karen and I can tell you with our souls to Jesus that Pornchai fell through all the cracks in the system, and it was happening again. He was hurt and heartbroken, and so were we. With but two hours notice, we were forced to put him on a bus for Bangor at age 17, and the promised social worker on the other end completely dropped the ball. And when we tried to stand up for what was just and right, we were terminated from the school, which has since closed.
“Pornchai ended up on the streets, and then we were crushed to see his arrest on the 11 PM news. All the years of abuse and injustice had overwhelmed our son. We tried to intervene by bringing the whole truth of his life and his past to his trial, but his public defender would not even return our calls. You know the rest of this story.”
Joe and Karen Corvino are very special people. Over the years, they have been foster parents for 116 young men and women, but Pornchai holds a very special place in their hearts. “We are so very proud of the man you have become,” Karen Corvino wrote last week to Pornchai. “You are and always will be a gift to us from the Lord.” They have been reading Felix Carroll’s Loved, Lost, Found, and wrote,
“We are just blown away by the story of our dear son and the other amazing accounts of Divine Mercy.”
In his homily at the Canonization Mass for Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis said that we should never be scandalized by the wounds of Christ. We unite our wounds with the wounds of Jesus, and turn to Him for Divine Mercy. And look what it has wrought! On this Mother’s Day, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri stands in the rays of Divine Mercy. His Godparents, Charlene Duline and Pierre Matthews stand with him, and now so do his foster parents, Joe and Karen Corvino for whom Pornchai was lost, found, but loved always!
“Every mile into the woods is a mile out again.” I thank you and honor you, Joe and Karen, for waiting for my friend at the forest’s edge.
Editors’s Note: a continued thanks to TSW readers for their generosity in responding to Ryan MacDonald’s appeal to help with the legal costs, at the Federal level. We haven’t reached our goal yet, so please share this link to Ryan’s news alert post!