“I tell my jailbird buddies never to think themselves as criminals, but rather as someone who has done a criminal act. Because if they are told they are criminals, if they are treated as criminals and if they believe they are criminals, they become criminals. That’s how it works.
A young boy dropped a carton of milk at the supermarket checkout and it split open, spilling milk all over the floor. “You stupid child!” Said the mother.
In the next aisle, another boy dropped a carton of honey. It broke open too, spreading honey over the floor. “That was a stupid thing you did,” said his mother.
The first child has been classified stupid for life; the other has had only fault pointed out. The first will probably become stupid; the other will learn to stop doing stupid things.
I ask my friends in prison what else they did the day of their crime. What else did they do the other days of that year? What else did they do the other years of their life? Then I repeat the story of my brick wall. There are other bricks in the wall that represent our life apart from our crimes. In fact, the good bricks are always many, many more than the bad. Now, are you a bad wall deserving destruction? Or are you a good wall with a couple of bad bricks, just like the rest of us ?
A few months after I became abbot and stopped visiting jails, I received a personal phone call from one of the prison officers. He asked me to come back. He gave me a compliment I will always treasure. He told me that my students at the prison, once they had finished their sentences, never returned to jail.”