Bill Donohue and the Catholic League published a brief but powerful conversion story setting in motion a series of saving graces in the life of Pornchai Moontri.
Editor’s Note: The Following guest post by Pornchai Maximilian Moontri is his fourth for These Stone Walls. His others are:
- Imprisoned by Walls, Set Free by Wood
- I Come to the Catholic Church for Healing and Hope
- The Duty of a Knight: To Dream the Impossible Dream
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Of the three guest posts listed above that I have written for These Stone Walls, the one that still haunts me the most is the last one. It was the first one I wrote, and I wrote it with some help from my friend, Father Gordon MacRae (Father G) who patiently typed it from my confusing pages of notes and ideas.
That post was written in April, 2012, and the reason it still haunts me is that it begins with a painful but needed reminder of how my life was passing away before Father G and I first met:
- “I was a teenager when I went to prison [in 1992]. Over the next 13 years, I was sent to solitary confinement over and over, for up to three-and-a-half years at time, because I was so hostile. The longer I was there each time, the more inhuman I felt and became. Living for years on end in solitary confinement joined with the guilt I felt for the life I took during a struggle when I was 18 years old.
- “So I just gave up on myself as a human being. I sank to the very bottom of the prison I was in, and stayed there. Then, in the spring of 2005, after almost fourteen years in and out of solitary confinement, I was told that I was to be shipped to another prison in another state. I sat for ten months alone in my cell wondering about whatever hell was coming next. Then one day, guards in riot gear came and chained me up….” [Editor: You can see the solitary confinement unit that held Pornchai at wgbh.org/frontline/solitarynation. Pornchai knows many of the solitary confinement prisoners in this documentary. If you haven’t seen this, you can’t begin to know what Pornchai has been through. It’s the video right at the top of that link.]
At the time I wrote the above, I had already lived in a prison cell with Father G for almost five years. I shudder when I think of my life before then. It is hard to put together a series of events in my mind that seem to be disconnected to each other. Going from years in brutal solitary confinement to life in a cell with a Catholic priest is something I never imagined.
When I look back, and see all the small steps in which our Blessed Mother inserted herself into my life leading me to Jesus, it seems miraculous to me. If someone else told me this story twelve years ago, I would not believe it. But there is a lot more to my story.
Most people I knew in my earlier prison were afraid of me. Most expected me to erupt in violence any minute. I liked having that reputation. I could not see it at the time, but it protected me from ever again feeling the horror I felt from the time I was taken from Thailand at age 11 to the time I ended up a homeless teenager living alone on the streets of Bangor, Maine at age 14.
What happened in those three years upon my arrival in America was like a black hole from which no light could escape without Divine assistance. I kept it bottled up within me in a seething rage of trauma and hurt. But it served a purpose. It kept everyone else away.
I have read a little about exorcism since I became a Catholic on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2010. I understand it to be the spiritual casting out of evil. My exorcism at the hands of Jesus through His priest took a long time. It had to begin with my long, slow awakening to the fact that the evil within me was not mine to keep. It was placed in my heart and soul by someone else.
On September 12, 2018, the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, Richard Alan Bailey, the man who violently raped and tortured me more than forty times when I was taken to America, was brought to justice. It was These Stone Walls that ultimately accomplished this. Father G wrote of this. I am not yet ready to read it, but I hope you will. It is “Pornchai Moontri, Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night.”
ANOTHER PRISON HELL HOLE OR A ROAD TO EMMAUS?
Backing up a little, in Fall, 2005, I was shackled, chained, thrown into a prison van, and driven from solitary confinement in Maine to Concord, New Hampshire. I was handled like a dangerous animal, and thrown into a familiar place: another stint in solitary confinement. But it was brief. It was also in 2005 that The Wall Street Journal wrote its first articles about what happened to Father G. Not long after I first met him by “chance” one day, I read those articles.
Later in 2006, Father G and I landed in the same place. We both had an assigned cell mate, and our cells were two doors apart. I remember the first time I walked into his cell. I saw a photo on a little card attached to the mirror and the man on the card looked sort of like Father G. So I said, “Is this you?” Father G then told me about St. Maximilian Kolbe, about what he did in prison at Auschwitz, and about how this card came to be on his mirror. [Editor: See “The Paradox of Suffering: An Invitation from St. Maximilian Kolbe”].
Then one day came dreaded news. A U.S. Immigration Court ruled that I will be deported to Thailand at the end of my sentence. I never wanted to leave Thailand as a child. I was forcibly brought to America, and all I really knew in America was its prisons. In the meantime, my Mother – my only connection to Thailand – was murdered on the Island of Guam after she was brought there by Richard Alan Bailey. Her death remains classified there a “cold case unsolved homicide.”
When news of my eventual deportation came, I knew that I had no future in Thailand. I had no future anywhere. Father G helped me appeal the deportation order, but like most such appeals, it was denied. So I just gave up again, and settled in my mind on my own “Plan B,” my eventual self-destruction. Father G confronted this setback with his own optimism that provided no hope or comfort at all. He said, “We are going to have to build a bridge from here to Thailand.”
Who could take him seriously? I sure didn’t. We were in a prison cell thousands of miles away! All the things Father G tried to instill in me about hope and trust and surrender just felt empty again. But I had nothing else to hang onto. No hope at all. So I hung onto his.
DR. BILL DONOHUE ON SOUTH PARK
Soon after this rejection from the Immigration Court, Father G came into our cell one day and told me that we have to get a summary of my life story on paper… So we talked for a long time. He asked me lots of questions and took notes. Then he helped me put it together in a four-page document. I tried to type it, but he became impatient with my one-word-per-minute typing speed. (I can do it a lot faster now!) So Father G typed it while I waited.
Soon after, my roommate was sent to another prison. So I asked Father G to consider moving in with me. After he moved in, he said that he wanted my permission to send the short life story we typed to a few contacts in the outside world. He said that these were all people who had connections, and that he believed one of them would find connections for me in Thailand.
I thought this was hopeless, of course. No one is going to be interested in me. But I hate arguing so I just told him to go ahead. I believed it would come to nothing. In coming weeks – to my shock and awe – I started receiving letters of support and encouragement. One was from Cardinal Kitbunchu, Archbishop Emeritus of Bangkok. I nearly fell over when I saw the envelope with his return address and Thai stamps (back then we could receive the envelopes and stamps).
Another came from Honorable Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Another was from Father Richard John Neuhaus, Editor of First Things magazine. Both encouraged me to cling to hope even when I saw none. And then finally one came from Dr. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Dr. Donohue shocked me. He asked my permission for the Catholic League to publish my story.
At first, I was excited. Then the sense of doom within me crept back in. I did not want others to know that I was victimized in America. I also was consumed with shame for my own offense. I told Father G that I did not want to publish the story. But this gets really strange from here on.
I used to sometimes come across a horrible cartoon called South Park on the Comedy Central TV channel. South Park spared no one. They would often take famous people and create a cartoon satire of them. On April 5, 2007, I was watching an episode of South Park. It was their Easter Special. Suddenly, there on my screen was a cartoon version of Dr. Bill Donohue.
I stuck my head down from my top bunk and told Father G to turn it on The cartoon was very disrespectful, but my first reaction was to shout, “WOW! DR DONOHUE IS REALLY FAMOUS!”
HIDDEN THREADS IN THE GREAT TAPESTRY OF GOD
I also concluded that he must be really good because only good people are ridiculed on South Park. Jesus and Pope Benedict were ridiculed in the same episode. At one point, Jesus punched Dr. Donohue. I was horrified! But this is also what changed my mind. I thought that if Dr. Donohue is brave enough to endure this ridicule, I can be too. So I asked Father G to help me write to Dr. Donohue with permission for the Catholic League to publish my story. It was because of South Park!
Two years later, in 2009, These Stone Walls began our decade-long adventure in what Father G calls “The Great Tapestry of God.” He told me that in this life, we live only in the back of the tapestry, unable to see what all our tangled threads are producing.
Over the next decade, we together confronted evil. It was not all at once. It was in slow steps because at points along the way whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would retreat and then give up and quit. But Father G never quit. He stayed the course, patiently waiting for a better day to pull me back onto what he called “our road to Emmaus.” And staying the course meant writing about me. What he wrote started to become noticed.
Strange things began to happen. Just weeks after I was received into the Church on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2010, I read that South Park editors cancelled an episode that ridiculed Mohammed after freely ridiculing Jesus, Pope Benedict and Dr. Bill Donohue. I never watched South Park again.
But there are stranger things still. Because of what was being written about me, Clare and Malcolm Farr – husband and wife attorneys in Southwest Australia – offered to assist me pro
bono. They are today among my dearest friends, but we have never actually even met in person. They performed miracles with contacts in Thailand, with an attempt to reopen the case of the murder of my Mother in Guam, and with bringing my abuser to justice. (See, “When Justice Came to Pornchai Moontri, Mercy Followed”).
Books and articles were written and spread all over the world. Everything that Father G once said would happen has happened. Even when our lives seemed to just fall apart, as sometimes happens in prison, we managed to recover in miraculous ways. This has happened many times, but the most amazing was a story told in “St. Maximilian Kolbe Led Us Into the Heart of Mary.”
But when all was said and done, when the bridge to Thailand that Father G promised a dozen years ago was built, the greatest miracle for me was the discovery that it was the Catholic League’s publishing of “Pornchai’s Story” in 2007 that made its way to Thailand and opened doors of Divine Mercy for me. It all came down to South Park!
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Editor’s Note: In addition to the powerful links in this post, read of the books, articles, and global attention that readers of These Stone Walls brought to the amazing life of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri at MercytotheMax.com.
- Pornchai Moontri, Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night
- A Stitch in Time: Threads of the Great Tapestry of God
- The Paradox of Suffering: An Invitation from St. Maximilian Kolbe
- When Justice Came to Pornchai Moontri, Mercy Followed
- St. Maximilian Kolbe Led Us Into the Heart of Mary
An Urgent Note to Readers from TSW Contributor Ryan A. MacDonald:
To the Readers of These Stone Walls I have had the honor of twice interviewing Pornchai Maximilian Moontri behind those stone walls, and have written about him. As so many of you know, his story is staggering in the depths of its sorrow and yet inspiring in the heights of his spiritual conversion.
TSW reader Bill Wendell from Ohio has kicked off a funding effort with a gift of $1,000 to assist in the restoration of Pornchai’s life. Readers who wish to join in this effort may do so using the PayPal link (found by scrolling down on our Donate Page). Please indicate on the PayPal form memo line the name of Pornchai Moontri. You may also have a check made out to Pornchai Moontri forwarded to him at Pornchai Moontri c/o These Stone Walls, P.O. Box 205, Wilmington MA 01887-0205. In either case, these funds will be forwarded to a savings account set aside for Pornchai-Max who will be starting his life over. Thank you.