Former North Providence Rhode Island police sergeant Michael Ciresi spent nine years in prison and decades in a prison of another sort. Now he is paroled from both.
There is a difference between friends and comrades. It seems a subtle difference until you actually have at least one of each. Then the distinction becomes crystal clear. I have many friends, some of whom I have never actually even met except through These Stone Walls, but I have only a few friends who are also comrades.
Friends become comrades when they are part of a shared purpose and experience, usually the survival of some ordeal or battle. The word took on a dark meaning when it was adopted by Marxists as the preferred greeting, of Soviet Communists during the Cold War. In Spanish, the word “camarada” came to be used for fellow soldiers who count on each other for survival in battle. That is what I mean by “comrades.”
My comrades and I owe each other our survival in spiritual warfare. My friends, on the other hand, are those for whom I pray to be spared from such battles… As I have written before, spiritual warfare requires allies, especially in a place like my current environment. I described my allies in spiritual warfare in “Saint Michael the Archangel and the Art of War.”
But I have also had the good fortune to find some allies among my more earth-bound friends as well. Some are still here with me. Pornchai Moontri is one, and I likely do not have to explain why to anyone who has been reading these pages. Others are gone now, but their status as comrades can never diminish. One of them, and it’s a name you have heard before, is Michael Ciresi.
Both Pornchai and Michael have written guest posts for These Stone Walls. Their best ones appeared just a few weeks apart during Lent in 2014. They were written independently of each other, but as often happens among comrades, what they wrote shares a similar tone and substance. These are perfect posts for Lent for anyone who has ever shared with them a place upon the field of spiritual battle. The battle they fought was within their very selves.
Pornchai Moontri wrote, “I Come to the Catholic Church for Healing and Hope.” It is an important and very powerful story of a Lenten journey from Gethsemane to the Empty Tomb. It is a story about the tapestry of our lives, not only my life and Pornchai’s but also the foundation of our “camarada” with others whose shared experience robbed them of hope and the ability to trust Pornchai’s story of spiritual healing has had a profound impact on others. Here is an excerpt:
“There was a lot that happened between meeting ‘G’ [he means me!] in prison in 2007 and my conversion and it changed the way that my life was influenced and dragged down by my past.
One of the things that ‘G’ tried very hard to get across to me is that I am responsible for my mistakes, but also that our lives are not just one unrelated event after another. I see, now, that our lives are a process, and the days of our lives influence all the days to come after.
For a long time, I was not able to face the truth of what happened in my life. Some of what happened to me in childhood caused me to have great shame and anxiety, and the cost was the loss of my ability to trust It was the terrible burden of shame that G helped me to bring out into the open and face it.”
TRAVELERS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
The truth of what happened in Pornchai’s life is a story in progress, and its next chapter is unfolding even as I write. It will hopefully be written soon. What I set out to write today, however, is the story of what happened when his suffering was placed in the service of another.
Such witness carves out a powerful path. to spiritual healing, not just for the recipient of this actual grace, but also for the one who .has suffered. One of the most important sentences ever written on These Stone Walls is this:
“There is no greater service to those who suffer than to give meaning to what they suffer.”
That meaning comes by living openly your spiritual recovery from suffering and sorrow. I have seen that meaning unfold most powerfully in the story of our friend and comrade, Michael Ciresi, a fellow prisoner who is now free. Mike faced a grueling trial in prison, but the real battle was waged within himself. It was fought courageously, but it required allies.
Sergeant Michael Ciresi was a decorated North Providence, Rhode Island police officer when he was charged, convicted and sentenced to prison in a high profile case. Let’s just get the crime out of the way for it is only peripheral to this story. Michael’s life began a spiral descent into darkness, and he somehow justified committing a robbery of a notorious drug dealer in 2004. He was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Prison is not a place that is kind to anyone, but for police officers and priests it can be a crucible of torment. I survived those years of torment, a reality that left me in a position to recognize Michael’s need to survive years’ later when our paths crossed. Because he would be surrounded by some of the very men he helped send to prison, the court recommended that Mike be sent to some other state for his own prison sentence.
Like Pornchai Moontri when he finally emerged from years of solitary confinement in a Maine prison, Mike Ciresi could have been sent anywhere. Chained up in the back of a van, it wasn’t until it approached the New Hampshire State Prison that he knew where he was going or what he might be facing.
COMING HOME TO THE CATHOLIC FAITH I LEFT BEHIND
I had many misgivings about telling Michael’s story. He is free now, and home with his two teenage sons where he belongs. But just weeks ago, an alert TSW reader sent me a recent newspaper article by Jennifer Bogdan that appeared in the Providence Journal. It was entitled, “Where are they now: Out of prison, former N. Providence cop enjoys simple things in life.”
I braced myself for another media bashing of my friend and comrade, but Jennifer Bogdan had done a good job writing this story, brief though it was. In her research for it, she found the guest post that Mike Ciresi wrote for These Stone Walls in 2014. She and the editors highlighted one aspect of it that, for the news media, always makes for a more sensational story. “It was the good people he met in the New Hampshire state prison where he completed most of his sentence, he said, who brought him back to God.
More specifically, Ciresi said, it was during his time in prison that he came to terms with sexual abuse he says he endured as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest who has since died. As a child, he said, he didn’t tell anyone.
But once in prison, he met another inmate, ironically enough, he says, a Catholic priest, who helped him process the experience. He first wrote about the experience in an April 2014 blog post published while he was still incarcerated (Jennifer Bogdan, Providence Journal, Jan 28, 2018).
Ms. Bogdan’s piece went on to quote some excerpts of Mike Ciresi’s TSW post. Though she covered this justly and fairly, those excerpts need a greater context than what a brief “Where are they now” article could give it. The context it needs is what Michael gave to it himself.
In the months after Michael Ciresi wrote his post, he opened his heart and soul to an amazing grace that continued beyond the restoration of his faith. It continues today beyond prison walls. Michael followed Pornchai Moontri and me into Father Michael Gaitley’s “33 Days to Morning Glory” and Marian Consecration.
He did this aided by the same Heavenly allies who have aided us: Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Padre Pio, and Michael’s namesake, Saint Michael the Archangel who is also the Patron Saint of police officers and of justice and its mirror image, mercy.
What happened to Michael Ciresi as a child can never be undone. It is now part of the fabric of his life. So is the spiritual healing from abuse that he courageously sought.It is so vastly different from the usual media accounts of survivors whose “healing” includes contingency lawyers, mediated settlements, and media sensationalism.
But I must let Mike tell this story himself. Please share it. The link below is an account that can be an aid to freedom for many others. Please take a little time this Lent for Michael Ciresi’s “Coming Home to the Catholic Faith I Left Behind.”
Editor’s Note: You might also like these other posts by Michael Ciresi, Pornchai Moontri and Father Gordon MacRae about redemption for the imprisoned: