TURNING POINT IN YOUR LIFE! How many of you can point exactly to when things changed for the better in your lives? Accidentally cast adrift due to family circumstances, or maybe because of immaturity you didn’t challenge yourself. Even took the wrong path. Then there was a moment, yes, a seminal moment – or most likely a person – a single other human being who believed in you and acted on it.
After all, if harsh societal rules and assumptions are adhered to, without a preferential option, then no one will progress from their stuck state – personal poverty. A huge reservoir of unfulfilled lives, of promising talent stagnating, if people are not offered a hands-up to ease themselves out of the “soup”. Matthew felt this, what was the point of not being a criminal, if there was no better way to earn your money? More about him later.
Louise benefitted from an outstretched hand. I did too. In a recent BBC radio programme interviewing Dame Louise Casey, Famvin Homeless Alliance Commission Member (among other roles) described her life stages, accompanied by her cherished music choice, in the iconic Desert Island Discs. Check it out. It is an interesting and entertaining series. Louise recalls leaving school after a rebellious time. She was urged by “Sr Ita” a former teacher who believed she had talent, to return and finish her academic qualifications. Louise credits her achievements to Sr Ita’s intervention. Her hand-up.
My own story relates to another Religious Sister; a member of the Holy Faith Order, a Vincentian Family branch, Sr Una Collins was my School Principal in an 1960s Irish Republic struggling to afford universal school education. In a State where the school leaving age was 14, my father’s premature death left me, the eldest child, two months from my 14th birthday, without the means to pay for my education to age 18. Work beckoned. Sr Una approached my desperate, grieving mother with a bursary so I could continue until “Free State Education” was introduced. I feel blessed I was able to personally thank Sr Una who still writes encouraging me to this day! Like Louise, I too hold within me the urgency to offer a hand up because I keenly remember needing it!
Matthew’s story of a Miraculous Mentor is a modern story of redemption. A repeat offender – in and out of prison as a juvenile and young adult. He found himself in ISIS the male Young Offenders Prison in Greenwich, South East London. Nearby is where the AIC Abbey Wood Group, led by Naomi Smith live. These Vincentian women, encounter young men, age 18 plus who have lost their way – never knowing a law abiding life or what being well cared for felt like.
After years of trying, the Prison found themselves a Catholic Priest Chaplain. Rev. Valentine Erhahon is a gifted, spiritual advisor and life mentor. Basing his 10-week mentoring on the Vatican Swiss Guards training, and with a motto A Minimis Incipe, (From the smallest beginnings) Fr Valentine has gently guided these young men. His bulletin recounts interviews with young men who have found a new path in prison under his care. Rather than call it Desert Island Discs – Fr Valentine calls them Desert Garden Discs.
The stories of how he sets these young men stepped, guided challenges is underlined by his refusal to dumb down the Latin title – A Minimis Incipe – hinting of another world. Imagining this world, Fr Valentine urges them to complete a 10 year post-prison plan, and coaches preparation for this life. Rigorously he trained the AIC Group in how to encounter them. Trusting them, he trained these young men to carry out sensitive roles within the prison.
Matthew was a Chapel Orderly, earning a salary which he tells us in the interview “I saved to pay for driving lessons”. Being locked up wasn’t how Matthew learned to aim for a law abiding fulfilled life. It was Fr Valentine’s belief that he could be.
Using prison courses, Matthew found employment fixing railway tracks, then with his driving licence he become a self-employed courier. Recently, he became the first ex-prisoner to join Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. A huge achievement.
Matthew has the last word. “I am now in my 4th year of this plan, and its all working well. I already had that new lifestyle in my mind from being mentored in prison. It stopped me going back to the usual bad ways because I was used to getting my money that way. Stupid I know, and it earned me four prison sentences, but I didn’t know how else to be until Fr Valentine showed the way.” A Minimis Incipe. Amen.