“Dad, you’ve left me alone. I have no one to turn to.”

The words burned through his heart.  Nathan had been imprisoned for assaulting his wife.  He had been drunk and upset about something that even he admitted was a minor thing.  The kids had witnessed the incident.

Originally charged with attempted murder, even with a lesser charge Nathan spent almost two years behind bars. I did my best to keep the bonds strong with his kids.   I run a program that allows inmates, who are permitted continued contact with their children, to record bedtime stories onto a cd. I then mail or deliver the CD and the book to the family.  Nathan did many.   And he sent weekly letters.  And he called them often.

Still, mom had moved on. She had a new guy, and while Nathan seemed to accept that, it was more difficult as he worried about the loss of his children. His ex was very cooperative in allowing him to be part of their lives, but Nathan always worried that would change.

On one occasion, his pre-teen daughter was coping with some problem or other.  In a call to her dad, she uttered those stake-like words.

“Dad, you’ve left me alone. I have no one to turn to.”

Nathan was close to tears as he shared the experience, vowing never again to return to this place.

The words of an eight-year-old did more than 18 months of incarceration.  A broken heart can do wonders.

Weeks later, Nathan was a free man and invited me to catch up with his family at a fast food joint.  He had come a long way from an orange jump-suit, and stress- filled face.  This day, I watched him with his two young kids on his lap, smiling and laughing and having fun.  Anyone in the restaurant would have said, “What a happy family!”

I sat in the booth across the way, taking it all in.  My prayerful heart jumped for joy as I treasured this moment that I, and more importantly, he, had longed for.

Those countless hours spent talking to this dad to help him get through the tough days behind bars all seemed worthwhile now; those moments when we would pray together for something good to come of his time behind the ancient walls; those long drives I made to a community miles from my own home to deliver Rosary beads, and books, and words of encouragement to family members; all that paid off, in this brief meeting over coffee on a winter’s day, when love showed up in giggles, hugs and unspoken words.


Photo courtesy of Gerry Phelan.

Gerry Phelan is the Roman Catholic Chaplain at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St.John's, Newfoundland, Canada. He previously spent 37 years as an award-winning journalist, in radio, print and television. He calls his chaplain's work "the most rewarding" thing he has ever done.

  • Peter Chouinard
    Posted at 06:00h, 03 August Reply

    Gerry, Your post brought me back to wonderful memories of a young man my CLC community in New Brunswick visited and wrote to in prison in Springhill and Westmorland and the joy we all experienced in walking with him

    After 10 years in.prison, he was released and we were blessed to attend his wedding and to host him and his new bride for a meal.

    Thank you for reminding us that our efforts can make a huge difference in anothers life by the gift of loving and respecting life.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 09:48h, 03 August Reply

    Thank you Gerry!

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