Friday, March 09, 2007

I went to prison

It's been another heavy-duty week. I'm tired.

The payoff is accomplishing things.

This week, as I hinted last week, I had an opportunity for a business deal to benefit the parish. It involved a piece of property, abutting the church parking lot, that--by our acquiring it--would mean more parking. It has been on the real estate market for awhile -- our area is depressed -- and I had been in touch with the realtor about making the deal.

The seller--an international bank that got it back via foreclosure--decided to put it up for auction. So down to Fairborn--a suburb of Dayton--I went, along with a parishioner who is also a realtor. Neither of us had ever been to one of these auctions, but we felt pretty confident. I knew how much I would bid, and either we'd get it, or not.

The auction was at the Holiday Inn; and ever since seeing the movie The Blues Brothers, I can't think of Holiday Inn without thinking of "Murph and the Murphtones." Well, guess what we encountered, walking into the room for the auction? There was a fellow, on a keyboard, playing elevator music! All he needed was the fur trim on his keyboard, and it would have been perfect.

I thought it odd that they'd go to the trouble of having a keyboardist to entertain us while we waited; turns out, he was to play during the auction! Only a lot louder. Clearly the idea was to create excitement and get the crowd ginned up. The first few properties went for ridiculously small amounts--less than a car goes for, as the parishioner with me observed--and that got my hopes up.

Well, that wasn't the case with the property I wanted. Another fellow was bidding it up, and we soon reached my limit. When I stopped bidding, the realtor said, "keep going, let's get it." When I explained I was at the limit, she said, "I'll make up the difference." So we kept going, and won it with the highest bid.

We had to sit through the rest of the auction before we signed the papers. I looked around; the gentleman bidding against us had left.

The paperwork part was pretty clearcut, and off we went. I made some calls to follow-through, prepare for demolition, etc. You'd think it would be cut-and-dried? Not so. The bank had the right under the terms of the auction to come back with a counter--i.e., ask for more money. I was stunned.

The reason for my reaction is simple: the area is depressed, the house is a wreck, and it has sat and sat, for months. There were only two people interested, and the other person stopped bidding! Plus, I had proposed a deal on the property that would have been very favorable to the seller (not hard to figure out what it was--we're a tax-deductible institution...) but no interest.

My comment to the realtor was, "tell them to jump in the lake." She is, thankfully, more diplomatic than that.

So, where do we stand? Still waiting.

As I have written before, there are lots of interactions a priest can't talk about: personal problems someone brings to me, sensitive matters, complaints (I could talk about them, except if the person making the complaint saw my post and recognized the situation, it could hardly help things to see it online), and so forth. Also, I have things I'm looking into that aren't ready to be publicized. Anyway, my week was filled with such things.

I do have good news: our parochial vicar, Father Tom, is feeling better. We all got a scare at Mass today, when at the very beginning, he tripped over the altar cloth, and took a header, but he was fine, except skinning his knee. But it did put a chill on Mass, as you might guess; and as it was the school Mass, everyone will be talking about it. He did get up and make a funny comment about it, I hope that reassured everyone. He and I talked about getting him back into the daily and Sunday Mass routine, which is good news. Wait till he sees the work I've got for him; he'll be sorry he said anything!

Seriously, he has very serious health issues that aren't going away. So upturns like this are a gift, and we hope they last quite awhile. But it is still good news.

Well, no doubt you are waiting impatiently to find out about prison. That was today's special project.

A parishioner from my last assignment went to prison for a very serious crime--serious enough that he got 10 years. We had several conversations, back when the situation first arose, and we have exchanged letters since then. He asked me to visit, and while the prison is about 50 miles away, it's the sort of request I felt obliged to honor.

I've only visited a jail once, never a prison. It started with an exchange of letters--I had to fill out an application, and send along various things to prove I am who I say I am. Then I had to call, and schedule a visit. Had to be there by 2:15 pm, or else no visit that day.

Well, off I went to Lebanon Correctional Institute. As I drove along S.R. 63, racing the clock (I left late), I saw, "Warren Correctional Institute." Lebanon is in Warren County, so I figured, pretty close. Not till I parked and walked inside did I find out they aren't the same. Back in the car, racing down the road.

What does it look like? Just like what you see on tv, except not as interesting. I mean: tv shows and movies at least try to make a prison look interesting, even if scary. This was just drab-scary: boring buildings, surrounded by extremely serious-looking guard towers, fences, and lots and lots and lots of razor wire.

Did you see Dude, Where's My Car? Remember the DMV clerk that wanted to chop off one of the dude's arms for reaching under the glass? It was a lot like that, except that the clerk softened up considerably when I was polite to her, and explained I'd never been there. You have to figure these folks can get hardened by their experiences, not to mention on edge.

Well, after that paperwork, then to the guard by the metal detector. He was pleasant enough; only everything had to come out of my pockets, and pretty much only my hankerchief could stay in my pocket. (I knew beforehand I couldn't bring him the Eucharist; I hoped I could bring my oil for anointing; no dice. Couldn't bring my breviary--prayer book--either.) What to do with the rest? "For a quarter you can put it in a locker." Well, I didn't have a quarter; I had no change, and no cash in my wallet. So I had to take it all back to the car. The guard held my keys. Then, to pass through the detector, my hankerchief went in one of those bins, my pockets had all to be turned out, then I walked through. (Wait till the TSA agents see this--that'll be next for our lovely outings at the airport.) Then through one big, heavy, clanging gate, where I had my hand scanned, to verify the stamp I'd received at the first window, then into the area where the prisoners met their visitors.

It wasn't awful; it looked a lot like a cafeteria in a air hanger, that sort of thing. Only there were bars everywhere. While I waited, I read the rules, posted on the wall. No inappropriate clothing; proper underwear at all times. A hug or kiss at the beginning, and end, and hand-holding inbetween, that's all. The prisoners have to sit facing the guard station.

Well, of course I can't say much about the conversation, except that the gentleman I visited looked good, and had grown spiritually in the near-year he's been behind bars. I stayed until the guards said we had to leave; but actually, that meant the prisoners--they left first. Then the visitors left, eight at a time. What's more, the visit ended along with a shift for workers, and they get to leave first. So we ended up waiting; a couple of folks groused at the guard, which struck me as a particularly bone-headed thing to do. He was only doing his job--and this is hardly the place where you can be breezy about rules!--and even if he was been a hard-case (which he wasn't), why irritate the man?

He was counting off people right before me, and just my luck, I was number nine! So I was the very last. We chatted a little; he told me they had air-conditioning, only it comes on April 15, stays on till October 15, then heat takes its place. Prisoners complain when its too hot or too cold (parishioners do the very same thing), and there's not much he can do about it (same for pastors).

The other thing--which doesn't suprise me once I thought about it--were the little reminders that this was, after all, just another place of work: home-made signs here and there, doo-dads at work-stations, the little things we do to personalize things. Not saying it was pleasant--but it had just that much humanity about it.

The good news is that the man I visited reported Mass twice a month, communion services the other weeks; plus Bible studies led by Catholics, including sometimes a priest. Priest comes periodically to hear confessions. Prisoners can get books, and they have a little Catholic library. Not saying its posh, but again, some humanity about it.

Got back here almost 5 pm, did a little work; now to the Fish Fry.


Anonymous said...

Could more Catholic books be donated to that prison library?

Anonymous said...

Your life is full of variety, Father! It's delightful to read your observations & responses to these unusual situations you find yourself in, and fun to guess what the Lord has in mind when he allows you to get involved!
This parochial vicar priest, I feel terrible about him. If he is so ill shouldn't he be resting or being taken care of by somebody?
It must be awful for him to be so sick and still have to struggle with parish tasks - someone should take him aside and say, "Enough already!" I think the compassion we are taught by Christ should extend to priests too, don't you agree?
That prison scene - pretty scary.
You were courageous to go there! It probably did a world of good, I'm sure.
So very sorry the real estate deal went sour. Whatever are those bankers thinking of??? Doesn't make alot of sense.
Keep up the good work and keep on telling us about your adventures & misadventures! Annie

Jim said...

Ok, father enough with the serious stuff. Who are you picking for the NCAA final four?

Father Martin Fox said...


Our parochial vicar wants to be busy. He has been resting, and he's just now getting back into things, as he's getting a little stronger. The thing is, he wants to be busy as a priest, and I fully support that. I may feel otherwise when the time comes, but at this point, I hope to be doing priestly things until my last breath. I'd be happy to drop dead right as Mass ended.

The real estate isn't off, it just hit a bump, it may yet come through. Stay tuned.

Father Martin Fox said...


As to donating books: you'd have to contact Lebanon Correctional Institution directly, I don't know. I know it has a web site, but I don't know the address.

Greg Williams said...

murph & the murph tones? how can you expect to restore gregorian chant when you can't even get murph & the magic tones right? [GR]
seriously, fr. fox, good luck with the real estate deal. how's the latin coming along?

Father Martin Fox said...


Sorry I didn't answer sooner.

I've been so busy lately, haven't kept up.