Franciscan priest and Pace e Bene staff member Friar Louis Vitale, 77, began serving a six-month prison sentence on Monday, January 25 for nonviolent, prayerful protest calling for closure of the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. On February 25 he was transferred from Crisp County Jail in Cordele, Georgia (where he spent his first month after being processed briefly at Muscogee County Jail), to the US Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. He was then moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and now has arrived at FCI Lompoc. To see other letters from Fr. Louie, click here. Here is his mailing address:
Louis Vitale #25803-048
Federal Correctional Institution
3600 Guard Road
Lompoc, Ca 93436
As I have noted a number of times, I spent Lent in Crisp County Jail, Cordele, GA five years ago. It was a powerful experience that has stayed with me. I was accompanied by Jim Douglass’ books, Lightning East To West, and Resistance And Contemplation: The Way Of Liberation.
My Lent was not as reflective as I hoped it would be, but in some ways was perhaps even richer
I was able to hole up in my small sub-cell (open to the larger cell with the omnipresent TV) I was about to gather myself—contemplatively, and even had a theophany experience while caught up in prayer; by way of the small window, I awakened to find the cell full of lightning, which also filled the sky.
When I was delivered to Crisp County Detention Center on February 25, 2010, I was hoping I might have a repeat experience. I was able to start Lent there on Ash Wednesday, (using dust for ashes).
It was a good opportunity for prayer and sharing scripture, and life experiences (some quite dramatic) with my cell mates. However, March 25th I was placed on a prison bus (in handcuffs and chains) and transported to Atlanta—a federal holding center. I had 3 weeks of good scripture reflection time with my Baptist Cellmate, Fr. Harold Snyder, and again sharing many experiences with fellow inmates.
Three weeks later we flew to Oklahoma City Federal Transit Center at the city airport. After a week of waiting, with quiet time for prayer and sharing more experiences—a time of conversation and evangelization—we flew off again. We landed in Victorville, CA and were placed on a bus to Lompoc. After a five hour trip through the desert, then green citrus and vegetation with an exquisite ride up the coast via Santa Barbara, I arrived at Lompoc. Can this really be true?
I settled in quickly and readapted my Lenten priorities as we passed through Passion (Palm) Sunday and departed Lent to participate in the Tridium, with a sharing of the Last Supper (Holy Thursday), and the Good Friday recalling of Jesus’ passion—and now await his resurrection—Easter. So, my Lent was not as reflective as I hoped it would be, but in some ways was perhaps even richer
Since Easter in Crisp County was not celebrated in any noticeable way in terms of a religious celebration or a festive meal. I was hoping and praying that we might make it to Lompoc for Easter. My prayers were more than answered.
We arrived just before the eve of Palm/Passion Sunday. They have a very nice chapel here. Father Frank Tinajera who was the Chaplain when I was at Nellis Federal Prison Camp, had just left as prison chaplain here.
The Catholic community had been praying for a priest. Many felt very fortunate that Fr. Harold Snyder, OFM, CAP, a Capuchin Franciscan from nearby Santa Ynez Mission, was available to help with services. They announced on Easter Sunday that he would be coming on a regular basis for Catholic services. He is a very amiable man, a good presider and speaker. He even sings well (Italian). He represents the Franciscans well. The Catholic community felt their prayers were doubled when I arrived as a Franciscan “insider”—one of them.
I, for one, was really delighted with Holy Week and Easter, and felt that my prayers and hopes were more than fulfilled. (Two miracles: one that I actually came to Lompoc FCI, CA, and two, that I made it to be able to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.)
We also had a busy week with orientation—lots of rules and regulations to learn. I am not an easy learner. My poor memory is a great reminder. But the fellows here are very helpful and amiable. It is something of a cross between the army and Franciscan formation.
My time is very short—just a few months—and it will go fast. My sentence is just 189 days. Some have that many years! But, God is here and has brought us together. Yes, this is Holy Ground and we are much blessed once again, and when we “Let go and Let God,” the results are often better than we hope.
Easter blessings to all of you—
Gratitude to Sherri Maurin for transcribing this letter.