Criminal serving time with monks begs to be sent back to prison

Are there any judges out there?  Here’s an idea.

A reader sent this from the The Daily Mail:

Criminal serving his sentence with monks pleads to be sent back to prison… because monastery life is too hard

A convicted criminal who was serving out his sentence in a monastery has escaped for the second time and asked to be sent back to prison because life was too tough.

Thief David Catalano, 31, was sent to a Santa Maria degli Angeli community run by Capuchin monks in Sicily last November.

But he found their austere lifetstyle too tough to handle and soon escaped. After a short while on the run he was caught by police and sent back.

On Monday he fled for the second time in six weeks, only to swiftly turn himself in at a police station and beg officers to send him back to jail in the nearby town of Nicosia.

He told the stunned policemen: ‘Prison is better than being at that hostel run by monks.’

A police spokesman said: ‘Catalano arrived out of the blue and said there was no way he could stay on with the monks.

‘He said it was too tough and he wanted to go back to prison, so we happily obliged and he is now back behind bars serving the rest of his sentence.

‘Life with the monks can be pretty tough – there are no mod cons and they are up early and go to bed early. There are no luxuries at the hostel and the monks run a very austere regime.’

The Santa Maria degli Angeli community is based in a monastery near Enna on the island of Sicily.

It has been run as a halfway house by the Capuchin friars for more than 12 years with around 60 prisoners accommodated there as they near the end of their sentences.

Topic for discussion: Should prisons be less/more comfortable than a Franciscan convent?

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  1. jbas says:

    Less so. The convicts are trying to get back into society, while the friars are trying to get into Heaven.

  2. Darren says:

    The friar (technically, Franciscans are not monks) in the photo looks quite happy.

    Prison should be almost miserable – just comfortable enough that the convict wants to get back into society and not return to prison (and not do what he did to get him there in the first place).

    Of course there is the life sentence with no possibility of parole…..

  3. wmeyer says:

    The friar looks happy because he doesn’t view his circumstances as punishment, whereas the inmate would, especially as the friars would be seeking to bring him to a conversion, and the prison guards will not.

  4. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    This happened to an American priest in the Orthodox Church. His story has been recorded before and is called “From Drugs to Orthodoxy”. In the early 1970’s he was being sentenced to jail time for several reasons…to make a long story short he was going to pick up his brother-in-law who was staying at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. The monks found out he was arrested nearby and went to his sentencing where they plead he be sentenced to live with them. The man had to live in the cow barn and go to all services. He eventually was baptized, went to seminary, married, and was ordained a priest. He now is a retired priest, and has been blessed with 8 grandchildren. I think this is such a cool story! His name is Fr. Basset.

  5. APX says:

    I’m sorry, but as someone who is in the industry, this made me laugh. One of my duties is to process house arrest applications for people who are serving weekends and find Friday evening to Sunday night in prison “too hard” (although, apparently “it’s a great diet program”).

    It says the monastery is serving as a “halfway house” for offenders nearing the end of their sentences. Halfway houses are not the equivalent to penitentiaries and serve a different purpose. When offenders go into penitentiaries for a number of years, they become institutionalized and need to be reintegrated back into society in order to “lower their risk of recidivism” and be able to function properly as an everyday citizen. This is the main function of halfway houses. They allow offenders to live in normal living arrangements and to learn practical life skills in maintaining a living environment and being responsible for their own meals, cleaning up after themselves, etc. They’re assigned a caseworker who monitors them and develops a plan for them of programming ranging from money management and life skills to rehabilitative programming.

    Unless the offender is being re-integrated back into a monastery, IMHO it is completely inappropriate to use a monastery as a halfway house. There is no doubt in my mind that the reason this individual found monastic life so difficult was mainly because he was institutionalized from serving time in a traditional jail setting and then thrown into another living arrangement he was not properly integrated into.

    I can’t help but get the feeling you don’t subscribe to the ideology of restorative justice and are set on the idea that throwing offenders into harsh prisons for X number of years will straighten them out (BTW: it doesn’t).

    Monasteries aren’t prisons (nor are they halfway houses) and therefore should not be compared to such. While I don’t think prisons should be like a Hilton (which a lot are in my country), I don’t think they should be primitive either.

    To answer your question as to whether or not prisons should be more/less comfortable I don’t it’s really answerable, as level of comfort is pretty relative. There are some offenders who love prison and its structured nature, whereas others can’t handle it and need their freedom. I’m not an offender, but I have a difficult time being in a prison on legitimate business simply because I have to get some guy sitting in a pod staring at a set of monitors to open the doors for me. Get in a mantrap with a guard in the pod with a sick sense of humour and this level of comfort gets a lot more comfortable. I don’t think I could ever live in a monastery or a jail simply because I need my freedom. I can adjust to structured/non-structured and physical comforts such a food, clothing, beds, etc and find myself comfortable, but take away my freedom and my comfort level goes out the window.

  6. Cathy says:

    It kind of makes me wonder how much penance has left the modern penitentiary.

  7. digdigby says:

    Painfully correct. It is out of one institution and into another. This is one of the most spectacularly bad ideas I have ever heard. Even a weekend retreat in such a setting must be
    completely voluntary. Father Charles ‘Dismas’ Clark (the hoodlum priest) of my hometown St. Louis, would have raised hell if stuck in a monastery!

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    I stayed in a Benedictine Monastary for six weeks in the fall of 2010 and I honestly didn’t want to leave, however I had to leave as UK citizens are only allowed to spend 12 weeks at a time in the US without a visa and any extension would have to be applied for outside the US, it is also still my dearest wish to one day be a Priest and/or Religious.

    As for Prisons I think that many Americans (from my experience) forget that prison is supposed to be a place of rehabilitaion as well as punishment and whilst they ought not to be too comfertable, it is counter-productive to make them overly primative.

    As for Monastic houses being used as halfway houses, I believe that it can work IF that is the particlular charism of congregation in question, just as purpose of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy was to help fallen women.

  9. Thepeug says:

    Curiously enough, the friar in the photo is sporting an OFM (Leonine Union) habit, not a Capuchin one.

  10. Rich says:

    This is one of the coolest articles I have read in a long time. Thanks for the link.

  11. Traductora says:

    It didn’t sound to me as if this was meant as a half-way house; he was serving his sentence there, probably because he hadn’t done anything extremely severe or violent (the article says he was a “thief”) and the judge thought this might give him a chance to repent and change his ways. Prison is notorious for teaching petty criminals how to be major criminals, so the judge probably thought he was doing something positive for the man.

    Certain monastic orders used to run monastic facilities that were penitentiaries (think about the origin of the word) for clergy who had committed crimes or even engaged in disciplinary infractions , and they were extremely harsh institutions. One of the reasons that the police often turned clerical violators over to Church authorities, at least in Europe prior to Vatican II, was that they knew the punishment would be certain and severe. I met someone once who had spent a few weeks in such a penitentiary in Spain in just prior to Vatican II and said that he had really been afraid of doing anything again that would get him sent back there…until after Vatican II, when these places either seem to have become much more lenient or perhaps even ceased to exist.

    I don’t know if there were such places in the US, or if they were as severe as their European counterparts.

  12. aspiringpoet says:

    “I can’t help but get the feeling you don’t subscribe to the ideology of restorative justice and are set on the idea that throwing offenders into harsh prisons for X number of years will straighten them out (BTW: it doesn’t).”

    God bless you for saying this.

    I have a relative who went to prison; he is now out and living a reformed life. It changes how you look at it. I believe prison should be aimed at rehabilitation, especially since many offenders have psychological problems of various kinds. It doesn’t have to be enjoyable, but it shouldn’t be a torture chamber either.

  13. @APX
    I saw this yesterday and got a good laugh out of it as well. I guess it is hard to explain to others the humor I see in the story. Actually, I started to chuckle when I read the header.

  14. oldCatholigirl says:

    I wonder if prayer played any part in the man’s monastic experiences. I don’t see how he could have been forced to participate against his will (or how it would make any difference to him if he just went through the motions). So, I suppose what it meant to him was: he had to get up and go to bed early (probably not too different from prison), perhaps work hard outside or in a workshop (I think prisoners generally do some kind of work, although not all day, and certainly not on a chain gang anymore.),and keep silence a good deal of the time. That last, with perhaps a lack of congenial fellowship (assuming prisoners enjoy grousing together) would be hard–AND–no television. I bet that was the real torture

  15. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    The prisoner “told the stunned policemen: ‘Prison is better than being at that hostel run by monks.’ The police spokesman recounted, “‘Catalano . . . said there was no way he could stay on with the monks. He said it was too tough and he wanted to go back to prison . . . Life with the monks can be pretty tough – there are no mod cons and they are up early and go to bed early. There are no luxuries at the hostel and the monks run a very austere regime.’”

    Note that the prisoner did not complain that he was not receiving proper re-integration into the normal everyday responsibilities he could expect to face once released from the criminal justice system, although he probably was not receiving that re-integration at the monks’ hostel, which is a problem. But that’s not why the prisoner asked to go back to prison. He told us why he asked to go back to prison. He asked to go back to prison because he didn’t like the lack of luxuries and the austere regime the monks maintained, and he felt that at prison, he could enjoy more comforts and a more relaxed and congenial schedule. That’s why this particular prisoner didn’t want to stay with the monks, and why he asked to go back. To prison.

    Furthermore, government-run halfway houses and pre-release centers and so on are very much institutions, albeit institutions geared toward training the soon-to-be-released prisoners to live independently. A key feature of such programs is the invariable requirement that the S.T.B.R. prisoner secures a full-time job. There is no reason in the world that monks and cloistered nuns whose monasties are in urban areas within reasonable commuting distance of places of employment, could not set up pre-release hostelries on their property as adjuncts to their own residence. The hostelries might be organized such that employed prisoners would prepare their own meals, do their own laundry, keep the area clean, just as it is done in halfway houses and pre-release centers, (which are also very much institutions.) And there is no reason that government training officers, parole officers, prison officials, etc. might not be present in the hostel, working closely with the soon-to-be-released prisoners, just as they do in government run pre-release centers and halfway houses.

    Of course, if the residents of such monks’ hostelries are obliged to hold down full-time jobs and to cook and clean up after themselves, and all this without the comforts they are used to in prison as well, they might still ask to go back to prison.

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