On August 26th, I posted “Postcards from the Edges.” It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of western literature. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good post that addressed a timely topic: news media bias. It was barely noticed, and received few comments.
Six weeks later on October 7th, I posted “To the Readers of These Stone Walls.” I didn’t think it was very interesting, but it generated more comments than any post before it, and was linked on a number of other blogs. Readers seemed interested in how These Stone Walls came into being, and in the obstacles we face.
It seemed ironic to some that I have never even seen These Stone Walls. Prisoners here have no access to e-mail or the Internet. A lot of readers seemed fascinated by something I thought was mundane: the fact that my posts are produced on an old typewriter in my cell, snail-mailed, scanned, e-mailed to Suzanne in Australia, and then posted at midnight on Wednesdays which is 4:00 PM Wednesday afternoons in Australia.
It’s a lot to go through just to publish something written in a prison cell. It’s for this reason that I post only once a week. I try to make the weekly post worthy of all this effort, and worth your interest.
The fact that I can’t actually see TSW is painful, especially now. I have only heard about the magnificent “virtual chapel” masterfully designed by Suzanne so readers may join in a weekly Holy Hour. The images were described to me, and the music played for me by telephone, but I cannot see TSW.
Blogging from prison also means that I can’t respond to comments or answer questions with the spontaneous give and take you’re accustomed to on other blogs. In this, I count on your patience and understanding. All of your comments and messages are read to me by telephone, and then printed and mailed to me.
A number of readers have posted comments and sent messages with pointed questions about prison, possible appeals, my weekly Mass, etc. I’d like to respond to some of them here. Some are direct questions from readers, and some are composites of questions asked by several readers.
Q: I recently visited New Hampshire and passed by your prison. Is it possible to visit you?
I’m very moved that this has been asked by several readers. Unfortunately, this prison does not allow visitors “off the street” without stringent prior arrangements. I’m allowed to have up to twenty people on a pre-approved visitor list. If I remove someone to make room for another visitors, I must then wait one year to place the removed family member or friend back on my visitor list.
The procedure for arranging a visit takes time. I have to mail a form to a prospective visitor that must be signed and notarized. It’s a waiver agreeing to a criminal record check by the state. Once the signed and notarized form is returned to me, I must complete another form, submit the documents, and await a response from prison officials.
Q: Do you have many visitors?
When I first came to prison, some of my family visited weekly (see “A Corner of the Veil“). Over time, this became difficult because of the distance and the visiting schedule. My only allowed visiting hours are Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 8:30 to 11:30 AM and Saturday from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. I now have visitors only three or four times per year.
Q: In one of your posts you mentioned being able to use a telephone. Can people call you?
Unfortunately, prisoner telephones work in only one direction. I can call up to twenty numbers on a pre-approved list, but no one can call me. To place calls, I must pre-pay by making a deposit into my telephone debit account. My calls are charged to my debit account at a flat rate of fifteen cents per minute. This is one of the challenges I face with These Stone Walls.
I call Charlene every other day or so to edit scanned posts, hear your comments, and respond to various messages as time allows. I place the calls on one of three telephones in a prison common area shared by sixty prisoners. If you wish to help with These Stone Walls, assisting with the telephone account is a good way to do so. Consult the “Contact” page on These Stone Walls for information on how to help with telephone and other costs.
Q: Can books be sent to you?
This is the most frequent question I’m asked, and it’s much appreciated. This prison allows me to have only ten books in my possession. That means that if someone sends me a book I’m not expecting, I have to give one up in order to receive it. That sometimes poses a difficulty. Books can be sent to me from Amazon.com or from a publisher or retail outlet with some conditions. It’s always best to inquire before ordering a book
Q: What do you like to read?
Some of my ten allowed books are reference books that I must hang onto. They include: The Oxford Revised Standard Version of the Bible with Apocrypha; a single-volume Breviary; The New Jerome Biblical Commentary; the Dally Roman Missal; an Oxford Encyclopedic Dictionary; the Oxford Dictionary of World Religion; and the Our Sunday Visitor Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. This leaves only four books that I can “rotate” if I receive something new.
Right now, I’m reading Secular Sabotage, by Bill Donohue, President of The Catholic League. It’s an eye-opener! I also was recently sent a new book by Attorney Harvey Silverglate entitled Three Felonies a Day about abuses in the justice system. (I’m proud to report that Attorney Silverglate, an accomplished author and legal scholar, subscribes to These Stone Walls!). Additionally, I have three or four historical novels I plan to read. This puts me over my ten-book limit by two books. I hope the prison guards here aren’t reading this!
Q: Can people send you food packages and other items?
This is the second most frequent question I’m asked, and it demonstrates the kind hearts of our readers. Unfortunately, this prison does not allow us to receive food packages or any other items except First Class mail. The prison commissary sells food items to supplement prison meals (see “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner“). The commissary also sells clothing, hygiene items, postage, typing supplies etc.
I must submit a list of items I need to purchase each Sunday afternoon, and I can pick the order up on Wednesday morning. This takes some advance planning. Telephone charges, postage and typing ribbons all come from my prison account and are my largest expenses.
Once per year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, prisoners here can order a single twenty pound food package through the prison’s recreation department. We can either pay for this from our own funds or our families or friends can order it. The order had to be submitted and pre-paid by November 10. The packages are delivered in the first week of December so it’s more like an Advent celebration for many prisoners. It’s the only opportunity to purchase food, items that are not available to us all year such as ground coffee, spices, chocolate, etc. Most of my order consisted of coffee since the commissary sells only generic instant. Prisoners sacrifice and save all year to order this package.
Q: Can we send you postage stamps?
No. Prison rules require that I purchase stamps in the prison commissary. The “Contact” page on These Stone Walls explains the mail rules and what is and isn’t permitted. There’s an address there for assisting with postage, telephone and other costs.
Q: Can people send you anything besides letters?
This is often asked, and I have been negligent in answering. Mail can contain printings from the Internet. Prison rules allow only up to ten pages per envelope (including letters.) Finances are a struggle for many right now, and I am very careful not to impose on others. That said, the “Contact” page on These Stone Walls describes the best ways to assist me with expenses or to contribute to a legal defense fund.
Q: Do prisoners work in the prison?
Technically, prisoners here are required to have prison jobs. In reality, there are far more prisoners than available jobs so there are about 500 prisoners without jobs. Pay for prison labor is about $2.00 per day. I have always worked in the prison. For several years, I taught college courses for credit to prisoners through New Hampshire Community Technical College.
I was given adjunct faculty status to teach courses in behavioral science and philosophy. About 300 prisoners took these courses for credit before the program was cut several years ago. Now I work in the prison library four hours a day. My pay is about fifty cents per hour which earns me about fifty dollars per month. The library here is a very busy place used by 100 prisoners per day.
Q: Why is your Mass celebrated only once per week?
If you haven’t already, please read my two-part “Sacrifice of the Mass.” It described the difficulties in obtaining and keeping materials to celebrate Mass in prison. Prisons do not easily lend themselves to exceptions, and a prisoner seeking an opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist is an unusual request. I can have in my possession only a very small amount of the elements necessary for Mass. I save them until late Sunday night.
During the week, I now have an opportunity for an 8:00 AM weekday Mass on EWTN. I have you to thank for that. The cable system here lost EWTN. Several readers wrote that they are praying for the restoration of EWTN in the prison. After missing it for eighteen months, EWTN was restored here three days after you prayed for it. Thanks!
Q: Is there hope for a new appeal in your case?
The short answer is “yes,” though it is a time-consuming and expensive ordeal. I suggest reading “Case History: Part III” above for an understanding of the fifteen year odyssey in fighting this unjust conviction. In short, we were on the threshold of bringing a new appeal in 2001 and 2002. My bishop and diocese had agreed to assist. That support was withdrawn, however, when accusations against priests reached a national epidemic in 2002 beginning in Boston and spreading throughout the country.
This had the effect of derailing my defense. It was not until The Wall Street Journal published a two-part analysis of the case in 2005 that another legal effort gathered interest and support. It’s underway now but it’s costly, and promised support for it from my Diocese never materialized. Case History: Part III above tells the rest of this story.
The Boston-based National Center for Reason & Justice now endorses our effort for a legal review and investigation. Other organizations and sites have also endorsed our defense after studying the case. They include The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Truth in Justice, and Friends of Justice.
The prayers and support of readers of These Stone Walls is immeasurably hopeful, and very important to this effort. I hope you had an opportunity to read my Christmas post, “A Ghost of Christmas Past.” I deeply admire you for speaking with justice and mercy when so many in our Church and society have been quick to condemn and throw stones.
Please suggest These Stone Walls to friends and contacts. Changing hearts and minds about injustice is done one person at a time.
REMEMBER FATHER DANIEL JOSEPH KENNEDY
Fr. Daniel Joseph Kennedy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, died two years ago today, January 27, 2008, at the age of 34. Fr. Kennedy had been a priest for only eight months when he suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting his brother in Hartford, Ct.
Fr. Kennedy was a parish priest at his first assignment in Winthrop, MA., and was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps. An accomplished marathon runner, he ran the New York, Boston, and Marine Corps marathons. In 2006 he ran the Boston Marathon to raise interest in vocations to the priesthood, a cause for which he was dedicated foremost by his own excellent example.
On this second anniversary of Fr. Kennedy’s death, please remember him and his family in your prayers this week. May the angels lead our brother Daniel into Paradise. May the Martyrs come to welcome him, and guide him to the Heavenly City, the new and eternal Jerusalem. A reader writes:
Thank you for your interest in Father Daniel J. Kennedy. This will be the ‘2nd’ Anniversary of his death. You may like to know that he really epitomized Father Neuhaus in his support for the Magisterium and his ability to enunciate his views cogently and emphatically. He died suddenly from a totally unanticipated cardiac arrest shortly after baptizing a friend’s baby (he was in terrific physical condition as he had just returned from a tour on the USS Nimitiz, he also played hockey and ran 9 marathons). Just moments before his sudden death he told his brother, “I love being a priest”. What a great way to die, stating how much he loved doing the work of the Lord. Although he was a only ordained as a priest for just 8 months he left a huge gap in the Archdiocese of Boston presbyterate and he had a tremendous impact on the young as well as the elderly in the archdiocese.
God Bless you and your apostolate.”
UNDOING KNOTS OF DISCORD
A month ago, 2010 began as the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. There is a growing devotion to “Mary, Undoer of Knots” traced back to Saint lrenaeus in the second century. There’s a website to promote this title at www.MaryUndoerofKnots.com.
I entrust the complexities of my defense to our Blessed Mother under this title. Many readers of These Stone Walls have asked me to pray for family members with seemingly dire circumstances. Join me in seeking the mediation of Mary, Undoer of Knots. There is no time in history when such a devotion was more needed.
May grace and peace be with you. With thanks and blessings,
Fr. Gordon J. MacRae