My love of the Harry Potter series surprises people at times. The books became darker as they went on, but still gave much food for thought. The Dementor creatures frightened me a bit. Below, for those unfamiliar with these beasts, is a description. I listened to one of the inmates yesterday share his personal trauma story with me and today I have been thinking about Dementors.
Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. ~ J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
At some point he confessed that the chapel was a place that he felt peace in for a brief time and that he enjoyed coming. The guards had not announced chapel that evening on his range, he said. He waited as another activity was called and after a few minutes he asked about chapel. He was told he had missed it and could not go. He knew this was a lie. He had listened for it. He took his bible in hand and announced he was going and that he would be let in on the other end. The guard did not challenge him too much, but enough to unsettle him. I inquired if these were part of the demons. He nodded and I could see his face turn to steel. He had already told me his crime–and I knew that he was capable of hurting people. He looked straight ahead. I quietly said that I was sorry that had happened. I saw his jawline relax a bit.
We talked some more. I have heard the horrific stories of several lifers over the many years of ministry there. This one seemed extra sad to me and as he kept talking, he looked me right in the eye. I could feel the tears welling up. I was trying hard not to cry. This man had asked permission to give me a hug when my father died a week before the June visit. The request caught me off guard as there is a no touching unspoken rule but I trusted it was not a game and received his kindness. I am not sure if that was why he was being so vulnerable now. Regardless, his story both saddened and frustrated me. I have heard these stories about the guards. I do not always believe them and I know that good people work there too. The relationships between the guards and inmates are complicated for good reason.
I could feel his struggle for hope and peace. His anger burned when the guard challenged his right to go to chapel. Clearly though this man needed to be in a holy, peaceful place. The Dementors live in the darkest, foulest places of our beings, trying to crowd out any light that exists. They long to snuff out peace, hope, love, and joy. They stir up those sadistic tapes that we are not worthy, nor do we have anything good to offer. They suck joyful memories and force a downward spiral of our thoughts. The Truth that we need to cling to is that we are worth more than our worst mistake. Even here, God can redeem us.
The conversations that I have valued the most over my fifteen plus years in this prison ministry are the one-on-ones with the lifers who have done unspeakable acts of violence. They are the ones who take on the Dementors. They have my admiration. Their stories need to be told and heard lovingly. I have heard about the sexual abuse they have experienced, occasionally by the hands of a priest. I have listened to them admit they are powerless against their addictions. I know that deep down they have great remorse about their crime. Forgiving themselves for what they have done is not easy. The demons keep hissing away, returning to their sin, and clawing at their souls. Oftentimes, I find myself in awe that they have not let the Dementors eat them alive and be done with their suffering. These men are resilient. They remain to tell their ordeals to those who dare to listen. Our hearts are changed because of it. Many of these men remain on my heart, years later. Their honest analysis of their lives teaches me to be vulnerable and truthful about my own demons. They bring me hope that I can withstand the dogged sneers of the Dementors myself.
I pray for all people who are run ragged by Dementors, myself included. I have learned to embrace my Graced History and beautiful memories. Holding on to the painful, worst experiences of life is not what I ever want to choose. I return time and again to what St. Ignatius teaches–that we live for the greater glory of God and that we must strive to be people for others. At this moment, I am giving thanks for a man who made himself vulnerable in talking about his demons and reminding me that we all can choose the way of freedom, even behind prison walls.
What demons are relentless in your life?
What triggers the Dementors to come out and torment you?
Soul-Supporter, protect us from the Dementors who want to claw our souls from us, sucking out all the goodness you have placed there. May we hear your small, still voice in our moments of despair and know that we are better than our worse mistakes. Amen.