“Dear Father, I apologize for being so bold, since we have never met, but I can assure you that I am not dangerous…” With these humble words begins an extraordinarily compelling letter. It is deeply moving, elegantly flowing and neatly handwritten by a prison inmate.
Last summer, my 8 week old English mastiff puppy disappeared. She had been in Butte, MT less than a day. After several frantic hours, she was extremely fortunate to be rescued by wonderful police officers from a drain-pipe deep underneath St Patrick’s Church. Unfound, she would have died in very little time. I was profoundly grateful and indescribably happy. The Montana Standard, our local newspaper, featured the rescue. The Associated Press picked up the story and it became national news. There was something about the combination of an adorable rescued puppy, police officers and a Church drain-pipe that clearly captured the imagination.
This is how Bob, in prison, became aware of us. As an inmate he knows exactly what it feels like to be stuck in a dark and uncomfortable place and the longing to come out of it. So he decided to send a letter to me. Of my female puppy Ysolt, he writes: “I chuckle every time I think of her rescue.”
I chose the name “Ysolt” since I already had a huge male whose name is Tristan. They bear the names of an Irish princess and a Cornish knight the eponymous characters of a pitch dark love story of medieval mythology. Like all great myths, “Tristan and Yseult” sends tremors through your soul. It paints with vivid intensity the human ability to place our lives into spaces as dark, lonely and terrifying as prison cells and drain-pipes.
Bob’s letter was filled with dignity, honesty and without a hint of self-pity. It was a cry that made his heart transparent. He wrote about my Huffington Post pieces. He was especially interested in the one in which I sought inspiration from the sublime tenderness of St Francis of Assisi. He asked me to recommend some reading. It gave me the opportunity, with the help of very generous parishioners, to go on a little shopping spree.
It is abundant reward, in itself, to make a gift to a guy like Bob.
As a society we are not very good at rehabilitation. Maybe we have stopped believing in redemption. You can only empower people to change if you believe that they are capable of it. Clearly, not everyone does it but everyone can truly change for the better.
God had been so immensely patient with me that redemption is not just a concept. To me, it is a powerful and undeserved experience.
The Huffington Post and our irrepressible love of animals made Bob and me connect. I will keep in touch with him. But his fondest hope, upon his release, is to meet Ysolt. I plan to make it happen, so help me God. She will welcome him with big, soft and accepting eyes, a cheerful tale and inescapable mastiff slobber. Since coming out of her scary pipe, she has never stopped believing in redemption.
What a blessing it will be to listen to what these two will have to say to each other!
Note: First name of letter writer has been changed.