Today has been such a fulfilling day~ Although I’m really sleepy now, I still think I need to write this down while memory is fresh…
I woke up at 5:55am today, for our visit to the Joyceville Penitentiary. I’m so glad that I went! A while back, I questioned why should we devote so much time to these people who had hurt people?? Are there many other people in the society that we should care about more?? Then as more people brought it up, I started thinking more… and think that they’re also sinners just like myself, I sorta wanted to go for a visit. Watching Rita’s story during the S+L gala night reminded me what this ministry is all about, that made me really anticipate this visit. (I actually feel kinda ashamed, coz Rita’s story was not new to me, I heard it from GT2002 too, I was pretty touched at that time, but I forgot about that completely ).
So this day finally arrives~ I got picked up at 7 by Francis, and then we met at Scarborough town and went together. On the way to Kingston, Vivien and I talked non-stop… We were talking about singers/albums those kinds of "fu cheen" stuff , while Lang Jai fell sound asleep and Silvester focused on his driving…
We got there at around 10. There were 17 of us visiting this time. We got to meet this drug dog today. (From what I heard, they need to help him practice from time to time… So one of us would be given drug to put in the pocket, and let this doggy find out… Then he gets to play~ That’s what he’s after.) So Felix volunteered to be the drug guy , and the doggy accomplished his task successfully after having fun smelling all of us. After signing in, Rita led us to the chapel and gave us some brief training.
Rita told us our presence there was very significant. First of all, many Chinese are being stereotyped as rich ppl (肥羊), many inmates would have thought we all drive nice cars and live a somewhat "luxurious" life, but in fact we’re just 打工仔, we work hard and make our living. Being able to interact with us allows them to know us as people, not just someone who are well-off to get robbed. Second of all, many inmates don’t have visitors… their families might have abandoned them after seeing them going back again & again… They look forward to normal conversations~ They’re just humans…
Rita pointed out to us that the inmates are isolated from the outside world. Their knowledge from the outside world comes from TV,it’s all fantasy (if it’s not something they wanna see, they’d switch channel). It’s very important to let them see real people coming from the real world to visit us unconditionally… If they get back to the world afterwards and want to commit crimes again, somehow if one of our faces flashes in his mind, he might experience a change of heart and not to hurt the person… We’re there to be icons of God’s love. Rita explains to us how the correctional system works in Canada. It’s pretty civilized. It acknowledges the fact that humans need hope to survive and improve. The inmates usually spend 2/3 of the sentence in the prison (total – the time spent in 拘留所 – days if good performance). And after being assessed, they get distributed to prisons of varied security. This gives the inmates hope so they would improve. It was good to find out that the idea of a penitentiary actually comes from priests/Christians in the past. Instead of killing those who commited crime or have them sentenced for life, this idea gets introduced so that these people have an opporutnity to repent and be good again… There are so many perspectives to it, and I have never thought about that. We as "normal people" would only have thought these people only have themseleves to blame… who cares what happen to them after they go to jail… This ministry actually helps the inmates, it also helps improve the safety of the general public, if they experience a change of heart and be good again…
After telling us a few rules of thumb for interacting with the inmates, we practiced a bit and had lunch. Rita then led us for a tour. It’s just like a school~ (I’ve never thought of it this way, it’s just a school!) The inmates have their own committee, so they could elect some people as their representatives… so their opinions can be reflected to the institution… They got a gym, a recreation room with pool table… They have a room where they can do craftwork (they’re actually very talented and creative… they have so much IQ!) And there’s a basketball court/gym too… I was telling Vivien, I think Rita is just like a teacher dealing with naughty students… It’s like teaching in a band 5 school~ If the schools/parents outside do a better job, they don’t need to be taught there.
After the tour, we got back to chapel. It was time for the mass. I joined a few of them to stand in the hallway to greet them. Unlike what we saw from TV, they dress pretty normal. They wear jeans, and a jacket. Some of them were wearing brand name clothes like Fila, Addidas etc, they don’t look any different than the people outside. Before entering, a few of them smoked outside… They smoke pretty heavily… There were a few Asians attending the mass. One of them told me his sister is also called Rosa when I shook hands with him.
The mass started. One of the inmates light the candle for the advent wreath… The readings were done by the inmates. We sang together, it’s just such a normal mass. Fr. Chui was the celebrant. In his homily, he reinforces the theme – rejoice. The 1st reading was about how the Israels got rescued from exile, and the prisoners got released~ It was such a coincidence The gospel is about how John the Baptist prepared the path for Jesus and expect him with anticipation… Fr. Chui was saying "tell me who you expect and I’ll tell you who you are". At first I was like "huh?" Then he went on and explain… During this Advent season, who are we really expecting? Are we prepared enough for Christmas? Are we expecting Jesus?? From this answer, we know who we are… Like John, he knew so well who he was expecting… he knew this person would be the Messiah. Despite the respect he got from others, he knew he wasn’t worthy enough to even tie the shoes for Jesus… That makes a lot of sense
The mass went on, during the prayer of the faithful, we prayed for the mother of an inmate who passed away last week and many other intentions… When it was time for the sign of peace, we shook hands with everyone~ Then there came the Eucharist, the blood of Christ was also available and it was available via intinction (okay, learned a new term that means dipping the Eucharist in the blood of Christ). Just before the mass was over, Rita invited an inmate to give a speech about what they feel about having visitors there with them~
After the mass was over, it was coffee time… we all sorta mingle a bit. We were supposed to pair up and chat with the inmates. Vivien and I ended up talking to a guy who just got transferred in yesterday. So he was still new to the place. We didn’t have much to talk about (unlike what Rita told us that the inmates tend to talk non-stop since they long for conversations)… I tried ask about what activities he joined, but he didn’t know any~ He didn’t even know who was Rita, so we were telling them…and said he could go talk to her any time… We didn’t have much time to chat with them… Before their free time ended, we sang Silent Night and We Wish You a Merry Christmas together~
After the inmates got back, Rita had a debriefing with us. She told us some of the darker sides. It’s really 偉大 for her to stay there to continue her ministry. It’s been 8 years… It’s certainly not easy. She had occasions where things could have got really bad, and luckily she was okay in the end. And it was also funny how she explained why the blood of Christ must be provided via intinction (Normally it’s prohibited in masses). We would just thought of the hygiene reason, that’s one thing. But most importantly, if they were presented the chalice, the inmates would have compete for the first place and the first one would finish the whole chalice (During the training, she actually mentioned how they could make alcohol themselves… with sugar, water, yeast & any bucket)
It was such a valuable experience to be able to join them this time~ I would have never thought of thngs this way…
During the ride back, much to my surprise, I ddin’t sleep but talked again non-stop with Vivien This time Silvester joined our conversation while Lang Jai continued with his sleep right after he got on the car… This time our conversation is much deeper, haha~ We talked about everything… At some point we were talking about the purgatory… Silvester mentioned an analogy he heard of, about how people spend time in the purgatory is like silver being refined by a silversmith in fire… (he just forwarded this email to us… 11 mins ago… haha):
There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi. As they were studying chapter three, they came across verse three which says:
"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver". This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.
One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
That week this woman called up a silver smith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silver smith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot – then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.
She asked the silver smith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silver smith, how do you know when the silver is fully refined?
He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that’s the easy part — when I see my image reflected in it."
If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep His hand on you and watch over you until He sees His image in you.
I think it’s so true~ Then we talk talk talk about everything, forgot what we talked about… but we just kept talking… hahaha
Finally we arrived there at 潮州館 we waited for 30 mins for a table for 10… Without thinking we ordered the combo A which says is for 8-10 people~ And in the end, after 10 hungry people finished eating… We got to take home 5 boxes of leftover food It was such a fulfilling day, on a spiritual level and on a physical (tummy) level.