Editors Note: The following reflection was originally published in the newsletter Voices from Prison and the Edge, a publication of the Adeodatus Prison Ministry under the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor.
My grandfather was a prison guard. He was a kind man and most of the prisoners liked him. However, many of the guards were not as kind or even fair to the prisoners.
One night my grandfather’s shift was changed to cover the absence of one of these guards. It proved a fateful event because that night there was a riot at the prison and inmates gained temporary control of much of the institution.
My grandfather was substituting for a guard most hated by the inmates, and was alone in the watchtower when a mob stormed his post. Not realizing the mistaken identity, they shot my grandfather 13 times and left him for dead on the tower floor. When the authorities finally regained control, several prisoners had escaped, and many people lay wounded.
My grandfather was so badly wounded he was left for dead as efforts were afforded to potential survivors. Near death he was abandoned.
In the chaos an inmate who had committed a crime while posing as a doctor ran past the dying guard. He realized it was the guard so loved by the prisoners. He comforted the dying man and called for help. He, who was presumed dead, lived!
My grandfather was hospitalized and began two years of painful rehabilitation. He would never work as a guard again. Rejecting anger and revenge, rather he continued to help the prisoners as an Italian translator. Born of Italian parents and fluent in their language, my grandfather gave the gift of communication to those who felt totally separated from their culture.
He continued as he was, a kind man filled with compassion for the imprisoned. His son and grandson would become prison guards. They too were spared the violence of the prisons when evil briefly surged.
In prison, God’s miracle of making all things new was not limited to inmates, but to those who guard them as well.
“Moreover, this is the rule of love: the good that we desire for ourselves we desire for our neighbor also; and the evil that we are unwilling to undergo we wish to prevent from happening to our neighbor. All who love God will have such a desire toward everybody.” – Saint Augustine (True Religion, 87).