Living the 'little way'

One of the men I visit in jail, Adam, is awaiting a civil commitment trial as a violent sexual predator. He is 35, and his only adult crimes are two convictions for possession of child pornography. I know the circumstances of the adult convictions, and I believe what he has told me about his childhood. No matter. He is on a path to life imprisonment in an institution for sex offenders. No jury is likely to deny a prosecutor's case that an individual needs treatment to protect himself and society from sex offenses.

At our last visit, he told me again his sorrow at being denied the opportunities to work and to marry and have a family and to contribute to society, and he told me more about his life in jail. I told him about Therese of Lisieux.

Adam is in a wing of the jail with five other men who are also waiting for their civil commitment trials as sex offenders. I don't know what they have done or have been accused of doing, but they are not generally easy men to live with. At least one has compulsive behaviors, and another is exceedingly argumentative. They are all depressed and isolated. Adam is outgoing and smart, though he has a propensity for putting himself in a bad light, by some people's opinions — wears his hair long and is a Wiccan, for example.

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But Adam tells me how he tries, day in and day out, to listen to the other men and offer them what comfort he can. I described Therese's "little way" to him. He was excited to learn about her and wants to know more. As I say, he's a smart man, but I think Autobiography of a Soul might be water too deep for a novice. A biography of Mother Teresa might be the place to start. I will have to order a new book and have it sent from the bookstore.

Upon conviction, Adam will be moved into a building that houses close to 200 men committed in Missouri for fear of their future behavior. There may be a few residents who received short prison sentences for violent acts years ago, but violent predators get life sentences. Most of the civilly committed are there because prosecutors are convinced they pose a threat. I think only three have been released over the decades the unit has been open.

I can and do work to challenge our criminal justice structure, but all I can do for Adam is to be there — and possibly find models for him to build his life on. In my efforts to inspire him, his desire to do good inspires me.


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