We all know that Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, is a grace-filled time of year. Yet, as the father of five children, I also know how hectic the Christmas season was for me, but especially for my wife. Rather than a time when peace should reign in our hearts, for many of us the Christmas season can often be quite anxious, and for some it can even be a time of severe depression.
The story below tells of one man’s generosity in jail, and how peace came to a little jailhouse on Christmas Eve. Let this story remind you of the love that came to earth at Christmas as a little child, to set us free from the prison of sin and death and to bring us his peace. This freedom and peace is for all of us, whether we are actually in a physical prison, or are experiencing a spiritual or emotional prison in our hearts and mind. I hope you will remember this story as you reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and how God wants to touch you and your loved ones this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas and May God richly bless you and your family during this season of grace,
Christmas in Jail by Lou T.
When the Mexican teenager walked into the county jail, he was understandably nervous. The nineteen-year-old, baby-faced Hispanic youth had never been in jail before and he had no idea what to expect. Would he be robbed, assaulted, raped? The other prisoners looked at him with suspicion. They distrusted anyone who did not share their anger, paranoia, and mindless destructiveness.
Zamora had reason to fear them. He was a simple boy from a small mountain town in Mexico who didn’t even speak English. After a few days passed and the terror in his eyes subsided, I approached him. I decided to teach Zamora enough English to survive in jail. He grinned when he sensed that I was going to help him. I made flash cards of the alphabet out of toilet paper. He was an eager student and learned the entire alphabet in just two days. But he still didn’t have any idea what the words he was learning meant.
A volunteer jail visitor brought me an English-Spanish dictionary that I gave to Zamora. With the help of me and the other men in the cell, Zamora soon learned English. He became our mascot and the little brother we all needed.
A Special Christmas Gift
Zamora asked me to help him learn to read the Bible. I selected the Christmas story in Luke. A week before Christmas, the volunteer church visitors were stunned and joyful as Zamora read the Christmas story in nearly perfect English. Many eyes filled with tears. My own eyes were damp. I was proud of Zamora. At that time it seemed as though I was looking into the innocent face of a young Jesus.
With Christmas a few days away, I wondered what I could give to Zamora to celebrate his new victory. My lawyer brought me a large color picture of Jesus. It was beautiful and even seemed to have Hispanic features. What better way to cement our friendship and celebrate his learning English than to give him this picture? When I looked at the peaceful, beautiful face, I realized what a contrast it was to the fear, hurt, and loneliness we experience in jail.
Two days before Christmas, I surprised Zamora with the picture of Jesus. Tears filled his eyes as he accepted this special Christmas gift. It was at that moment that I realized that he had a family somewhere in Mexico wondering where he was. His family must have taught him to love Jesus. We hung the picture on the jailhouse wall, and all the prisoners seemed pleased.
Welcoming Jesus into Our Cell
The day before Christmas, the guards ordered all pictures taken down from the walls. I asked if the picture of Jesus could be left up through Christmas. The answer was “no,” under the threat of additional punishment. Anger in our cell house rose in protest. In spite of the threat of punishment, we all agreed to keep the picture of Jesus on the wall. To our surprise, there was no objection from the guards.
It is typical that, as Christmas Eve arrives, emotions in a jail will run high and tensions will mount as prisoners — deprived of normal social interaction with loved ones — strike out in anger and frustration at one another. Even though we still felt the tension, we also noticed a strange peace in our crowded cell. While fights broke out in other cells, there were none in ours.
Just before bedtime, I asked Zamora if he wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer in his beautiful native Spanish. When he finished, I joined him in saying that beautiful healing prayer in English. There was no doubt that Christ was with us that night in jail.
On Christmas morning, the picture of Jesus still hung on our wall. Somehow now it didn’t even matter if they were to order it removed. After all, wasn’t Jesus in our hearts and actions? We all had a new appreciation of the power of love that Jesus represented to us. “Feliz Navidad,” I wished Zamora in my clumsy Spanish.
“Merry Christmas, Lou,” he replied in nearly perfect English. It seemed a strange place for me to find peace on earth at Christmas — in a jail cell.
This story is taken from God Alone, Stories of Power and Faith, The Word Among us Press, Copyright 2000. Used with permission.
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[Many thanks to The Word Among Us for allowing us to adapt material from daily meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.]
A Special Testimonial: Christmas in JailQuestions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
- 1. What do you think motivated the author, Lou, to offer help to Zamora? What impact did this act of kindness have on Zamora? Share a time when you gave a helping hand to someone. What was the impact on that person?
- 2. Do you think it was wrong of the prisoners to disobey the guards’ orders to take down the picture of Jesus? Why or why not?
- 3. Why do you think there was a peace in the cell on Christmas Eve with the picture of Jesus on the jailhouse wall? Why was it more than just the picture of Jesus, or the generosity of Lou in giving it to Zamora, that made the difference between their cell and other cells? Share how knowing and experiencing Jesus’ love has made a difference in your life and your family’s life.
- 4. If you are in a Men’s group, what steps can you and the men in your group take to generously share the love of Jesus with others during this Christmas Season?
- 5. Is there a prison near your town that would allow your group to visit with some of the men there? Perhaps, you could share the “Christmas in Jail” story, and other testimonials, with them.