was an old lag SALVATION Arms lasses mingled with priests, nuns and Red Cross delegates in Lourdes last week when the 611t French National Congress of prison chaplains and visitors was held in this
world-fatuous shrine of Our Lady
More than 3011 representatives, most of them experienced prison workers. attended the discussions which were solemnly opened with Mass at the Grotto, and preceded by a day of recollection.
Archbishop Richaud of Bordeaux anti Bishop Fhc:as of Lourdes were hr: , III it most of the sessions with ,,n. •;, rs from Spain. Belgium. It.,k antl Switzerland.
The diarnaIie high-point of the Congress was the moving lecture by a French prison worker who had formerly served six years of a 20year term of hard labour after his conviction on a charge of which he was completcl innocent.
This anonymous visitor gave an account of his experiences and his views on the spiritual rehabilitation of prisoners as seen from "the other side of the bars."
"Until now." he said, "there has
never heen a congress of prisoners.
only of prison visitors. I won't say whether that's a good thing or a had thing, but at least you can now judge for yourselves the worth of what 1 have to say as an ex-prisoner.
"I lived in fetters for i ycar and u half. forced to share on straw mattress with the prisoner to whom I was cha fined. I had the opportunity to study the behaviour of about 400 guards and nearly 2,500 convicts. 1 am an old lag, sentenced to 20 years' hard labour at a period when judges were particularly generous with their
The speaker then paid tribute "from the tnsidc" to the work of Catholic and other prison chaplains and visitors; but he also stressed the undoubted fact that "harriers a+1' suspicion, passivity, reticence, and sometimes even bad will" came between the prisoners and the spiritual efforts made on their behalf.
The prisons of France, he said. were full of habitual criminals of whom there would be less if guards and oalers were hand-picked men fi P and women who knew far more about the complexity of the human mind than at present.
"I am stricken with terror every time I rcfle.ct on the enormous moral responsibility confided to these men and women," he commented.
"1 know all the improvements that have been introduced in the regime of protective detention. But I also know that the life of the prisoner, despite the changed laws and rules, remains entirely in the hands of his guards."
Praising the great help which many prison chaplains and v i s i t o r s probably unwittingly bring to those behind bars. he said:
"It is right that viii' .hould he toll that those tiou once isited do not
forget you, and that they place their trust in the discussions you are taking part in here.
" l here are s o m e who are struggling desperately against misery and the temptations resulting from it. There are. as I know. some wit, ire dying of spiritual hunger. And :among those outcasts are those who Ire deeply grateful to you—and i,,Idd wish me to express their grati tame for them."
A C'.}ngress Ruch as that tieing held in Lourdes was useful, he added. however little it seemed to affect the course of prison administration, in ":I Ilowing a multitude of people who know nothing about the subject" to learn a little of the crucial problem nl prisoners' personal and spiritual problems.
And the unnamed cs-prisoner admitted in ci,nclusion that it was to the inspiration of chaplains and visitors x ho came to see him that he owed tits own peace o1' mind.
..It was you." he said. "who enabled me to consecrate my life after my release to the service of prisoners."