It is fitting that today is the feast day of St. Leonard, the patron saint of imprisoned people. St. Leonard is remembered for his compassion and active belief in the Lord’s redemption of prisoners. He always offered an outstretched arm, giving former prisoners honest work upon their release—an invaluable opportunity to start life afresh.
His devotion brings to mind long-time Cross Catholic partner Father Marc Boisvert, who is committed to equipping inmates in Haiti’s Les Cayes prison with a skill to earn an honest, sustainable living, while also exposing them to the liberating message of the Gospel.
The images of life in this prison are fresh in my mind after a recent visit to the jail provided a rare glimpse into the desperate circumstances there. Crumbling walls, severe overcrowding and a shortage of guards are commonplace. Up to 42 inmates are crammed together per cell, allowed only one hour each day to venture outside and stretch. The congested cells have overflowing buckets for toilets and the unsanitary conditions increase the risk of tuberculosis, cholera and cause most inmates to contract some form of scabies or chronic itching. Unable to escape the filth, they are barely given enough food or water to fight infection.
It may be difficult to feel compassion for a hardened criminal, even when the punishment outweighs the crime, but many of the men locked up in Haiti’s prisons have only committed minor offenses. What’s worse, a mere 10 percent of inmates have actually been convicted of a crime, while the rest languish in crammed confinement, awaiting trials that will not come anytime soon.
In the tradition of St. Leonard, Fr. Marc has a sincere heart for helping these men live a new life. That’s why Cross Catholic helps him provide sewing classes to prison inmates. Led by professional tailors, the classes give inmates the chance to get out of their cramped cells, participate in improving their circumstances and equip them with a practical skill that will help them find employment as an alternative to crime when they are released.
So as we think upon St. Leonard today—who spent his life extending God’s grace to the lost—let us also remember an important ministry like Fr. Marc’s in Les Cayes, which is not only providing a practical skill and some relief from misery; but most importantly, is opening a door for the message of Christ, who alone is able to set people free from physical and spiritual bondage.