New Life Retreat
Deacon Ronald “Scotty” Bourne
I just finished our first one-day retreat at Central Valley Men's facility in Mc Farland on Wednesday the 23rd, of March - Holy Week.
The 44 men who attended had a choice of having a special Easter meal together or experiencing this one-day retreat. They chose the retreat.
In prison, inmates are always addressed by their last names, so when I insisted that the name tags I brought, list only their first names, it caused quite a flurry of pleasant discovery and discussion and transformed the day at the start by creating an atmosphere of community.
We started off with a welcome and explanation of what a retreat is all about and what we should expect from it. I encouraged them to listen, especially with their hearts, and believe and expect God to speak to them. For the first morning session I had them sit four to a table. Using an 8x11 sheet of paper I demonstrated how to map out and draw a "life-line", using my own personal history as an example. There were upward spikes for good experiences and downward ones for the painful moments. This is a simple process and they quickly caught onto it. Then I had them do their own life-line. Now came the hard part, getting them to share. Guys just don't like to share, especially in prison. The resistance slowly melted as the men found out that they related to everyone who shared, beginning with myself. My life-line had it's first negative spike when I was four years old. On my first day at school in Scotland I was beaten up by two older kids and my milk money taken away from me.
Almost everyman there had a negative happening in that same age range. As more of the men shared it became easier for others.
One fifty year Mexican man we’ll call Hector shared about his family moving to the USA when he was six years old. His parents could only secure four visas and they used them for his four sisters. His older brother, who in Hector’s words was “very street smart”, had travelled across the U. S. border twice by himself. So the parents left Hector in the care of his brother. The older boy was to smuggle little Hector over the border. Hector was taken to Tijuana and told by his brother to wait at a small park as he had to go off for an hour. Hector waited, one hour, two hours, three hours and eventually 10 hours for his older brother who never turned up. The little boy was eventually picked up by a local policeman and taken to an orphanage where he spent the next ten years of his life. He still has never found his brother or family.
A profound reality unfolded as we realized that all of us in that room had been wounded in our early years and that we have never gotten over the incident. Soon we were on a roll. Lots of sharing came with lots of discussion of painful pasts that imprisoned us and were robbing us of life. This led into the theme for the day, "new life".
With the discussions that followed, everyone agreed that they had no power over the past. None of us could change it and the bitter memories and painful attachments were robbing us of moving on and living our lives free of guilt, bitterness and un-forgiveness. I suggested we give God our past lives and all the garbage connected to it any way, asking Him to free us and give us "new-life".
Before the lunch break I gave each man a piece of red yarn about twelve inches long. This was a representation of their life-line and would be the symbolic gift we would give the Lord at our Communion service if we wanted to. It was an option, not a demand. When they broke for lunch, I anticipated that some of the guys maybe had had enough and wouldn’t come back to the afternoon session. Instead, the opposite happened. They not only came back enthusiastically but brought others with them.
After lunch we discussed the obstacles of letting things go and I went through them as best I could: anger, un-forgiveness, shame, guilt, feeling afraid and so on. I emphasized that without God it’s difficult to let go of these things, but with God all things are possible I reminded them that Holy Week is when Jesus went through His passion and died on the Cross at Calvary, after which He was resurrected. The process of us letting go of our past is a similar thing, we have to die to ourselves and let go in order for God to raise us up to new life with Him.
After my homily they came forward and placed their red yarn over the crucifix that was on our altar. That was our gift to Him, our past lives with all the warts and pains.
After communion I went around and prayed over each prisoner, placing my hands on their heads and asking God's blessing upon each of them and their families.
We finished up with positive feed-back. Most of them said they definitely heard God speak to them. I was impressed by the reverence and prayerful attitude they brought to the retreat. The hunger that they had for God's reconciliation in their lives really showed.
Everyone of them stood in line to hug and thank me before going back to their cells.
I was blessed!