Br Domenico Rosa, newly professed member of the MSC community, reflects on his time spent working in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin, as part of his novitiate year.
“I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36)
Towards the end of my novitiate year, I spent three weeks working in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin, for my pastoral placement. I was joined there by Jaime Rosique, another of the MSC novices. This was a very important and powerful experience for me.
At the beginning, I had strange feelings about the prisoners. I could feel their suffering.
The first day I spent in one of the wings, I felt like I was in a human zoo. Smoke, cigarettes, a lot of murmuring… I thought I might be going crazy and I was looking forward to going home. However, I slowly started to feel comfortable, as the prisoners wanted to speak with us – they trusted us.
They soon learned our names, which was very nice. Kevin, a prisoner, even gave me a poem. It is said that “to love is joy, to be loved is happiness”; it was a beautiful thing to see how the prisoners love the chaplains, including Fr John O’Sullivan, one of our own Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Here, I learned humanity – that everyone is a person before being a criminal.
On a day that I particularly remember, we were visiting Wing D for the third time, where people with psychological problems are imprisoned. I was with one of the chaplains and Jaime, my Spanish MSC brother who was also working with me in Cloverhill. We entered the TV room and the chaplain offered cigarettes to the lads, who seemed happy to meet us.
Brendan, a six-foot tall, muscular young man, looked at me in a threatening way and rotated his fists in a provocative manner. Smiling, I said, “You’re too strong for me.” It looked like he smiled too, while inhaling his cigarette.
Meanwhile, Kevin came towards me with countless handwritten papers. He recognised me and asked, “Are you Italian?” I told him that I am, and he responded, “My brother is working in Bolzano. Italy is gorgeous”.
“That’s true, Bolzano is very beautiful,” I replied. “Have you ever been there?”
“No, but I know it’s close to Austria,” Kevin said.
In the meantime, several young men pass by. Their faces have the seen hard times on the streets. They have lifeless, sad eyes that only become lively when they stop to exchange a few words with us.
I said to Kevin: “Bolzano has the largest bas-relief sculpture in Europe, built by Mussolini. He was a poet, too. Do you write a lot?”
“Yes, I always write,” Kevin responded. “Writing is healthy. I look at people and I write”.
“Me too,” I said. “I write every day. I have my own diary. I suppose you like reading as well?”
“Yes, I like English-speaking authors – British, Irish, Anglo-American writers.”
“Do you like Allen Ginsberg?” I asked.
Kevin said that he did, and I continued, “He wrote On The Road, didn’t he?”
Kevin’s answer was immediate: “No, that was Kerouac!”
“Oh yeah, how stupid! I messed up,” I admitted. “I also like the American writer Charles Bukowski. He said that people are the world’s funniest show, and you don’t need to pay the ticket.”
“I know him too,” said Kevin. Then, he changed the subject. “Next time you come, will you bring me the Bible?”
“Yes, of course, with pleasure. Have you ever written poetry?”
Kevin answered that he didn’t have time for poetry. When I suggested that he could write one for me, he willingly accepted the challenge, and then invited me to play table football. As he arranged three balls on the pitch, he told me, “In Brazil, this is how they play. A Brazilian friend who was here with me taught me.”
Later that day, I had to part ways with Kevin, but he has stayed in my mind since, and I feel that I have gained a lot from my time working in Cloverhill.
Br Domenico Rosa MSC