L. A. young inmates inspired by Francis

Father Kennedy

Father Kennedy

The following comes from a story posted on site of Vatican Radio March 28.

When the young boys at the juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles heard of Pope Francis’ wish to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Rome’s Casal del Marmo prison with the young inmates there, many of them expressed their desire to participate from afar and in close solidarity to what the Pope was going to do in another juvenile hall.

To do this they have written letters to Pope Francis, thanking him for his gesture of love and service, praying for him – as he has asked all of us to do, describing the sadness of their lives in detention, and asking for prayers to help them endure the darkness and hopelessness of their situations… As Father Michael Kennedy [of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative in Culver City] points out, some of these youngsters will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

We welcome their voices and publish the letters that will be read at a service Thursday evening with the Director of Novices and 11 Jesuit novices, each one washing the feet of an inmate at the juvenile hall [east of Echo Park on Eastlake Ave.] where kids are sentenced as adults.

Dear Pope Francis,
Thank you for washing the feet of youth like us in Italy.
We also are young and made mistakes.
Society has given up on us, thank you
that you have not given up on us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I think you are a humble man.
When you read this letter you will have washed the feet of other kids like.
I am writing this letter because you give me hope.
I know one day with people like you us kids
won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison
for the rest of our lives.
I pray for you. Dont forget us.

Dear Pope Francis,
I don’t know if you have ever been to where I live.
I have grown up in a jungle of gangs and drugs and violence.
I have seen people killed. I have been hurt.
We have been victims of violence.
It is hard to be young and surrounded by darkness.
Pray for me that one day I will be free
and be able to help other youth like you do.

Dear Pope Francis,
Tonight we pray for all victims of violence.
The families of people we have hurt need healing.
Our families need healing.
We are all in pain.
Let us feel Jesus’ healing tonight.

Dear Pope Francis,
I know the same youth feet that you wash
are like me.
Drugs have been part of me life for so long.
We all struggle to be sober.
But you inspire me and I promise to be sober
and help others with the cruel addiction of crystal meth.

Dear Pope Francis,
My many friends are in two different maximum security
prisons in one of our states 33 state prisons.Calif. I am writing to tell you that I feel bad
that more youth of color are in prison in our state
than any other place in the world. I am inviting you to come
here next year to wash our feet, many of who have been sentences to die in prison.
God bless you.

Dear Pope Francis,
I read that the harshest sentence that a youth
can receive in Italy is 20 years. I wish this was true here.
I hope I hear back from you. I have been catholic and glad I am catholic
because I have a pope like you.
I will pray for you every day because we need examples of God like you are
in this violent world.

Dear Pope Francis,
I am glad you picked the name Francis. When I was little I read about St.Francis. He is a cool saint. He was a man of peace and simplicity. I am praying to you that you pray that we have peace in our gang filled neighborhoods.

Dear Pope Francis,
When Jesus washed the feet of his friends he gave an example of humility. I have been raised to believe that it is only with respect in hurting your enemy that you are a man. Tonight you and Jesus show me something in this washing of the feet something very different. I hope we kids learn from this.

Dear Pope Francis,
I have never been to Rome. I do not know if it is near Los Angeles
because all my youth I have only known my neighborhood. I hope one
day I will be given a second chance and receive a blessing from you
and maybe even have my feet washed on Holy Thursday.

Dear Pope Francis,
I know you have a good family. I am writing this letter to you because I know
that my family is suffering because of me. I know have done some bad things but I am not a bad kid and when last year in our big state we not a new law called SB9 this made me family happy because this is a beautiful message that we kids deserve a second chance.

Dear Pope Francis,
From reading I know that us kids are capable of making decisions like older people do. I have seen pictures of brains of kids and adults. I am asking you as Pope to help us and
help other people understand we can change and want to change.

To read original story, click here.




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  1. “Comfort the Imprisoned” is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.
    “Admonishing Sinners”, Instructing the Uniformed”, and “Counseling the Doubtful” are three of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.

  2. Mark from PA says:

    Very thought provoking. Thank you for sharing this story.

  3. I hope the Restorative Justice Project or whatever it is called will be resurrected. It was a sad day when the people of California rejected this chance to give another chance to teens who commit violent crimes. If God has mercy on every sinner, we too can ask for the same for young people in prison for life. We live in a culture where vengeance and hatred prevail when it comes to some crimes. Some can’t wait to be present at the execution of a criminal who has been condemned to death. It is rare to witness any victim or the family of a victim offer forgiveness. Young people deserve a chance to prove that through rehabilitation they can change. Perhaps there is some element of prejudice against immigrants and people of color because a disproportionate number of these groups are in prison? And there are some felons who will never change, cannot change because of brain or other disorders. But there should be an opportunity to help those who are capable of change; I believe many of them would be willing to give back to the community in some way, to make up for their crime(s).

    • Anniem, do you know of any violent youth convicts who changed? Do you know the percentage that do. Do you know the recidivism rate for those upon release from jail?

    • Tom Byrne says:

      Anniem: I have a former student who spent some years as a California parole officer before becoming a teacher. I once asked her whether parolees generally tried to commit to the terms of their parole. Her response: “H**l no!”
      Let the reparative justice movement prove its wisdom with several thousand non-violent offenders for a decade and I’ll give the results a fair hearing. As for the violent: charity does not require we take serpents to our bosoms.

      • The Mosaic “realm” provided “cities of refuge” for criminals rather than prisons or reintegration into society. I think Australia was originally intended as such by the British.

        • Skai: In other words they ‘dumped’ their problems somewhere else so that others were obliged to deal w/them. Australia as well as US had penal colonies. Some of these people were indeed reintegrated into society. Others simply continued on their prior path of lawlessness. For reintegration to be successful, there needs to be proper education re the norms and values acceptable to the common good of society.

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