What is a Prison Monk?

Thoughts from Father Richard Rohr

What is a Prison Monk?

Thoughts from Father Richard Rohr

I guess I have a little right to speak to this subject, since I am both a Franciscan Friar (sort of like a monk!) and I was the jail chaplain here in Albuquerque for over 14 years. There, the residents taught me far more than I ever taught them.

Believe it or not, the idea of a “prison monk” is not that unusual at all. I quickly think of St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, San Juan de la Cruz, and St. Ignatius Loyola, who all had major enlightenment and conversion experiences while they were in jail–not to speak of the many male and female martyrs who languished in prisons throughout all of religious history. Yet it did not defeat them but transformed them and made them a model and hope for all the rest of us.

If the monk is known for solitude, discipline, and even celibacy, then the incarcerated person is a monk in the making! Just as the monks and friars set aside times for prayer throughout the day, the incarcerated man or woman has plenty of time to grow “in the one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42), which is our constant inner dialogue with the All Merciful One.

And if love of neighbor is half of the “one great commandment” to love both God and neighbor (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39-40), the prison monk is in a unique position to give simple kindness and respect to the many inmates who long for a human smile and a caring spirit—often without even knowing it.

Be a prison monk, dear friends, and give back to our suffering world!

—Father Richard Rohr