“At Play in the Field of the Lord”

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The Saints Prison Ministry sent a Pennsylvania team of ballplayers into a New England prison last summer. For Pornchai Moontri it was a day of amazing grace, and it’s a story of Divine Mercy that will inspire even the hardest hearts. 

by Father Gordon J. Macrae

When a man is sent to prison, the first thing to be checked at the prison door – besides freedom, of course – is pride. Prison is a powerful equalizer, and a constant discouragement for anyone with an ego needing to be fed. The examples are legion, but I encountered one last summer. I was in the prison ball field walking the perimeter one morning when the Assistant Director of the Recreation Department stopped me. “We’re hosting a ball team from the Saints Prison Ministry on July 9th,” he said, “and we’re putting together the best players from each of our teams to take them on.”

He had my utmost attention! I could not suppress the grin that was forming on my face as I eagerly awaited his next sentence. Seeming to notice, he hastily added, “So even though you’re not one of them, we’d like to invite you anyway in case you want to write about it.” It could have been worse, I suppose. He could have said, “We’d like to have you there in your official capacity” which, to be honest, is more or less to fetch water for the team these days. This is what my life in confinement is reduced to.

You don’t have to like baseball to read this post. In fact, it might even be an obstacle if you do. Something magical and wonderful took place out on that field on July 9th, and I’m not certain I have the writing skills to convey it with justice, but I’ll try.

Let’s start with the sport itself and get it out of the way, because it isn’t at all important to this story. In early fall, 2014, I wrote a post entitled “Prisoners of Summer.” It was about the championship season of the Legion of Angels (both current and fallen), the intramural prison softball team for which Pornchai Moontri serves as captain and pitcher. It’s an excellent team, and the fact that five of its players were chosen to play in the recent all-star game against the Saints Prison Ministry Team (not counting my water-carrying skills) is a testament to that fact.

American prisons in many states are confining and overcrowded, but imprisonment in northern New England has other consequences. The winter months are long, and a tough winter can magnify the feeling of confinement. Time in either solitary confinement or an oppressive absence of all solitude can derail a psyche and injure a soul. Prison is also a place of spiritual and emotional isolation. I wrote about the difference between solitude and isolation, and the soul-stirring importance of getting outside onto that field in the summer, in “Dostoevsky in Prison, and the Perils of Odysseus.”

It is not the physical violence of prison that is the most debilitating reality of prison. It is the spiritual violence that so reduces us as human beings. It is suffering with no apparent meaning behind it. It is oppressive confinement and emotional isolation, and, as Dostoevsky once wrote of prison, it is “year upon year of never, ever – not for a single moment – being alone with one’s self.”

WHEN THE SAINTS CAME MARCHING IN

When July 9th rolled around, I groaned when I looked out my cell window upon a bright, sunny day. A part of me hoped for rain, for an excuse to cancel the disruption to my prison routine. I wondered why I committed myself to spend the entire day in that field with these ball-playing evangelists. Pornchai Moontri, who was chosen for his skill as a pitcher, was a lot more enthusiastic. “See you out there!” he said as he bounded out the door at 7:00 AM. I just stared sullenly at my coffee and grunted some vague assent.

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I was told that we were to spend an entire day playing against a team of Evangelical Christian men known as the Saints Prison Ministry. My first thought was that the prisoner players I know will squash them like bugs out on that field. My second thought – which actually was the more charitable one – was that we would be preached at incessantly all day. Frankly, most prisoners – myself included – would rather face a day-long root canal.

So at 8:30, I tightened my sneakers and headed out through the long series of barred doors and guarded checkpoints toward the prison ball field. The rest of the team and spectators proceeded in typical fashion: in T-shirts and prison-issue green slacks, scowling faces, heads bowed, a shaming sense that once again we’re about to be measured and judged by men who are free.

Then, almost immediately behind us, the Saints team, escorted by prison guards, descended onto that field. My first impression was to ditch the notion that we would squash them like evangelical bugs. There were fourteen of them. They had baseball uniforms. They had their own gloves and bats. I immediately wondered what the security people here thought when they saw these guys invade their prison carrying bats.

My second impression was that all the trappings of prison seemed to suddenly disappear. They were still there, of course, but the presence of this team of true believers in baseball uniforms was so striking that the walls and fences and razor wire of prison seemed to recede into the background. We in T-shirts formed into a sort of huddle as the team descended upon us, looked each of us in the eyes, grasped our hands, and made us instantly feel as though we were the brothers they had missed all year, and longed to see again. They acted as though it were an honor to be there with us, but my overpowering sense was that they were not acting at all. They were genuinely happy to be here with us, to play ball with us as their equals, and we were entirely disarmed.

There were also no sermons. There wasn’t a bullhorn or a Bible in sight. They said we had a tight schedule of three games – two that morning and one in the afternoon – so after all the hellos and handshakes, we went right into Game One. The Home Team took up positions in the field while the Saints were first up at bat.

Then all contention ceased. We were invited to have fun, and it was probably the most fun any of us has ever had in prison. In fact, the very notion that we were in prison receded into the background. The day sped by, and for reasons I’ll explain below – the part I called “magical and wonderful” – it was a day I cannot forget.

THE GRACE THAT SAVES

Prison wasn’t the only reality to recede into the background that day. The game of baseball itself took a back seat to something else. There was something in the air that was hard to describe. Other than the uniforms, the visiting team was not at all unlike the rest of us. They ranged in age from twenty to sixty, but besides the fact that they were very good at baseball, it was hard to tell the difference.

Except for one thing. They all seemed happy. Not just happy to be here, but happy. Most prisoners forget what that feels like, and many have a hard time imagining ever being happy. Between innings it became clear to me that these Visitors were not happy because life was great. They were happy because they have found something greater than life, and we were all ears.

Our team prevailed in that first game, but barely. I had a sense throughout that the Visitors were holding back a bit, and in Game Two we would face the full fury of their prodigious baseball skill. We did, and we got our butts kicked, but it didn’t matter much. By that point, we liked these guys so much we were happy to see them win.

Pornchai Moontri was pitching for the home team that day. There were others you might remember from my post, “Prisoners of Summer.” Bryan Lisio, Oliver Hooper, Andrew Lalos, Mark Maynard, some of the best players from Pornchai’s team were playing that day, as was Jeffrey Marshall, Pornchai’s friend and rival who usually contends with him for the season championship. Darryll Bifano and Gary Britton were umpires.

After the first game, the “magical” part of the day began to unfold. The Saints announced that they wanted to introduce a speaker. “Aha! Here it comes,” I thought, but I was wrong. In fact, I was shamefully wrong. One man stood up to tell a wonderful story of how he came to faith and what it has meant in his life, of how it has carried and sustained him through trials and suffering.

This was no TV-Evangelist pitch. There was no sectarian or doctrinal push. This was real faith expressed in the trenches of real life, and the prisoners present were riveted to these words. I was grateful to hear him. This guy said exactly what I have said to countless prisoners over twenty years that faith is necessary as food for your journey. It is not the reward for arriving.

Then one of the visiting evangelist-ballplayers handed out copies of the Gospel of Saint John, and a little brochure entitled “The Grace that Saves.” Immediately, from a bench fifteen feet away, Pornchai Moontri caught my eye and held up the brochure with a look of wonder. On its cover was the very same image of the prison window with its rays of light that captured me in the image on myLinkedIn Home Page.

In Game Two, our not-so-tough-anymore team was clobbered. Then there was a small awards ceremony held on the field. The Saints Team announced a few awards including the day’s MVP, the Most Valuable Player award. Everyone cheered while Pornchai was presented with a book, theFellowship of Christian Athletes Sports New Testament which all the Saints team had signed. This was just a small precursor, however, to “The Grace that Saves” that was yet to come that day.

YOU THAT LABOR AND ARE HEAVY BURDENED

Now comes the part I find difficult to describe. During the morning games, the Recreation Department workers put together a lunch for the guests and our team in the prison gymnasium. There were six tables set up with five or six chairs at each. I saw two men from the Saints team who I really wanted to sit with because I had talked with them that morning, but all the seats there were taken. So I walked toward a table with two other men from the Saints with whom I had not conversed at all.

Then, spotting me about to sit there, Pornchai came over with his MVP award, and sat next to me across from the two Saints team members. I asked Wayne, the Saints player sitting across from Pornchai, what motivated him to spend summer days in a prison. A man just a few years younger than me, Wayne explained that he is a high school math teacher, a fact that got Pornchai’s attention because he excels at math. Wayne then said he wanted to do something important during the summer months. That explanation was left dangling for a moment, but I could feel electricity building in the air. Something important was going on here.

Wayne then asked Pornchai where he is from, and Pornchai explained that he was born in Thailand and brought to the United States when he was eleven years old. Wayne then asked him how long he has been in prison, and Pornchai said that he went to prison at age 18, twenty-three years ago.

Wayne looked at Pornchai in stricken silence for a moment. I had the strongest sense that we were arriving at the very purpose for our all being in the same place on that day. Wayne went on to tell us something that I think he had no intention of sharing that day. He said that some time ago, his twenty-six year-old son was killed when he tried to intervene with an intoxicated and enraged 18-year-old. Pornchai froze in his seat, and so did I. Wayne said that he spent a lot of years in vengeful anger, but the Lord took that away and transformed it into a desire to help those in prison. Wayne said that he was barred from reaching out to the young man who killed his son, so he instead sought to make prison itself a little better. “And so now I am here,” said Wayne, “to say that he is forgiven.”

I wonder what Wayne was thinking as he told this painful story and then looked at us. Just two feet to my right sat Pornchai Moontri who has spent the last 24 years of his life in prison wondering if he could ever be forgiven for taking the life of a 27-year old man during a drunken and enraged struggle when he was 18-years-old. Here in this prison gym, seemingly by mere chance (Yeah, right!) he encountered the mirror image of his crime, and stared into the face of Divine Mercy as this faithful man traveled from Pennsylvania bearing this message of forgiveness.

It was a while before Pornchai could speak, but he then told Wayne that he was in prison for that same story. Pornchai spoke haltingly, on the verge of tears, of his years of rage and self-hatred, of his self-punishment during year after year of solitary confinement, of his transfer to New Hampshire, of our friendship, and of his conversion and hopes for the future.

I was thunderstruck, and could feel the electricity of grace between these two men who each answered a personal summons of the Holy Spirit to be here on this day and in that moment. It was one of the most grace-filled moments I have ever witnessed, and I could never forget it.

Pornchai then told Wayne that I am a Catholic priest. Wayne asked me what I thought of Evangelicals. I did not have a chance to answer, as we were all summoned for a photograph. It is exceedingly rare that photographs taken in prison are published, but here it is. That’s Wayne on bended knee in a Saints uniform in the front row on the left. Pornchai is in the same row holding a plaque. I’m on the far right.

PRISON TEAM

So, Wayne, if you’re reading this, I didn’t get to answer your question. I think of Evangelicals as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they have stepped onto the field of the Lord in this prison before. Charles Colson, the Evangelical founder of Prison Fellowship, was a dear friend of my great good friend, Father Richard John Neuhaus in whose memory These Stone Walls, is dedicated.

Together, with the personal encouragement of Pope John Paul II, and collaborating with (then) Father Avery Dulles and George Weigel, Father Neuhaus and Charles Colson formed” Evangelicals and Catholics Together”(ECT). It was a call to action based on a shared affirmation of Christ as Lord, and of the Apostles’ Creed as “an accurate statement of Scriptural truth.” ECT was described by Timothy George in the National Catholic Register (April 25, 2012) as “Charles Colson’s Ecumenism of the Trenches.”

But of most interest to me was a photo taken by the Associated Press in reporting on the death of Charles Colson in 2012. It was a 2002 photo of Mr. Colson standing in the New Hampshire State Prison ball field before a crowd of 500 prisoners to whom he declared the love of God and the reality of grace. When that photo was taken, I was standing but a few feet away.

charles colson

A friend has sent me some pages from the Saints Prison Ministry website. It announced that a team from Pennsylvania would be in the New England region from July 8-12. After their visit here on July 9, the team moved on to the Maine State Prison. The website also describes some tips by various Christian athletes who have visited prisons since this fine organization was founded. One of the tips is “Your story is God’s unique work in your life. It can be the exact story someone needs to hear.”

If you are reading this, Wayne, I thank you for your fraternal presence that day, for indeed yours was the exact story someone needed to hear. Thank you also for responding to the Holy Spirit to be an instrument of grace – far more than you may ever know. You made our prison recede into the background for a day, and it was wondrous!

Watch this trailer of the Saints Prison Ministry at work in a state prison ballfield:

(Gordon J. MacRae writes for the award-winning social justice blog,These Stone Walls. The life of Pornchai Moontri is chronicled by some accomplished writers at Mercy to the Max. A version of the above article was previously published at These Stone Walls).

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Thomas Merton and Pornchai Moontri: A Prayer for the Year of Mercy — by Ryan A MacDonald (6 Dec 2015)

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Pornchai Moontri was Valedictorian of his high school graduating class of 2012

Tragedy struck the life of Pornchai Moontri obstructing justice and mercy. Now echoed in a prayer by Thomas Merton, the redemption of Pornchai evokes the Year of Mercy.  

Some recent posts over on These Stone Walls made me want to revisit something I published a few years ago but never got back to.  It was an article titled “Pornchai Moontri at the Narrow Gate,” and it has always needed a sequel.

A lot has come to light since I first ventured into the remarkable life of this remarkable young man.  I have learned a lot about Pornchai’s life, including the fact that at age two in Northern Thailand, he was abandoned to the streets and had to be hospitalized for severe malnutrition before relatives came to rescue him.  Living with the wonderful and kind extended family of his mother, he worked hard in childhood, but he was happy.

Then, at the vulnerable age of eleven, he was torn from his home, his country, his very identity, and brought to America.  In the ordinary course, this could have been a golden opportunity for a child like Pornchai.  America should have meant a home, an education, a family, nourishment, a life.  Instead, this child was forced by a chain of events into homelessness and despair.  How and why that happened to him at age twelve in 1985 is a shocking story waiting to be told.  And it will be told. But not just yet.

Speaking and understanding little English, Pornchai was deprived of a home, a family, and guidance at an age when most American children coped with little more than school and homework.  His childhood on the streets was consumed with the bare necessities of mere survival.  On a daily basis, for the second time in his life, Pornchai faced the challenges of finding food, shelter, and the means to survive alone in a foreign land. Six years later, at age 18, a fight and a flight took a life, and Pornchai was sent to prison.

Today, Pornchai has transformed from within.  He graduated from high school as an honor student in 2012, was Valedictorian of his class, and has since completed post-secondary courses in theology with a Grade Point Average of 4.0 at Catholic Distance University.  Then he earned two diplomas with highest honors in Psychology and Social Work at the Stratford Career Institute.  He did all of this while in prison with some help from friends to pay his tuition, aided by the sale of some magnificent woodworking projects he created in prison.

Today, Pornchai is a mentor to his peers, a source of guidance for others in troubled times, and a model of recovery from the darkest of adversities. Pornchai knows the past will echo throughout his life. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a cross he had carried alone for much of his life.

Five years ago, Pornchai also became Catholic on the Feast of Divine Mercy in 2010.  He has since led many others from the dark wood of error down that same path with the example he set as a member of Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s Knights at the Foot of the Cross.  In 2012 on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Pornchai Consecrated himself to Jesus through Mary after completing the“33Days to Morning Glory” retreat.  He was among the first prisoners in the world to do so, and his special witness was chronicled by my fellow journalist, Felix Carroll in “Mary is at Work Here.”

MARIAN HELPER 1

THE YEAR OF MERCY TO THE MAX

Pornchai Moontri accomplished all of this – or more accurately it was all accomplished within him – while a prisoner in the State of New Hampshire after having emerged from seven years in a long dark night of the soul held in the cruelty of solitary confinement.  For his sheer power of resilience and access to the Force within him, Luke Skywalker has nothing on Pornchai Moontri.

Late last month, it was my privilege to interview Pornchai via telephone from prison.  As we spoke, I could not help but ponder some of the powerful accounts of radical conversion and new life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture. His story feels like some of those.  Upon encountering God, Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter, and Saul – who once persecuted Christ – became Paul.

Pornchai Moontri has become “Max” – short for Maximilian – in honor of his Patron Saint, a fellow prisoner and traveller on this road, Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  It was this new name that caused me to want to write of Max again after reading Father Gordon MacRae’s wonderful recent post on These Stone Walls“PatronSaints:  Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

It tells the story of how St. Maximilian Kolbe inserted himself into the life of this wrongly imprisoned priest and then, through him, into the life of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri.  It is a breathtaking and remarkable account of Divine Mercy, and required reading during the Jubilee Year of Mercy that commences on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Knowing what I know now about Pornchai’s present life and its stark contrast with a tragic past – much of which you can view at the powerful new site,Mercytothe Max – I had some trepidation about broaching some tough subjects, but my concern was premature.  We spoke at length about the trauma and trials of the past, and we ended up agreeing that much of this is a story yet to come.

So we dwelled mostly on the present and future.  I had lots of questions for Pornchai about the daily life he and “Father G” lead in trying circumstances. Like a good reporter, I was trying to uncover who these two men really are and how they live and cope with the day to day trials of decades of imprisonment.  Pornchai spoke candidly about their day to day life and the lives of the other prisoners who have become part of their orbit.

Some of this was painful to hear.  Some of it was very funny.  But in the end, I could use little of what I learned.  These guys will never be fodder for the usual news media or any of the mundane and shallow media that most consumers of the news have come to settle for.  They live on another plane of existence than most, and it is not easy to describe in words.

PORNCHAI MOONTRI A STITCH IN TIME

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR JUSTICE

One response of Pornchai struck me hard, however.  I have learned a lot about prisons in America. One hard truth is that state prisons virtually starve prisoners, and then sell food to them at a profit.  In the New Hampshire prison, the food budget has been slashed year after year, and the daily caloric intake for those who cannot purchase food is on the level of bare sustenance.

The prison commissary where our friends may purchase food and supplies once per week has a four-page list of basic food items, hygiene and medical supplies, postage and writing supplies, and even some clothing that prison inmates must provide for themselves.  I wondered how someone like Pornchai, with no solid roots in this country, could possibly endure and cope with prison in these circumstances.

Pornchai brushed aside the question, but I got my answer from another inmate who asked that I not use his name.  He told me that the prison commissary was closed for three weeks in November, and that everyone in the unit where our two friends live ran completely out of food, coffee, postage, and other necessities.  The inmate said that Father G and Pornchai gave much of the food they had to others with nothing, and by the end of the second week, Pornchai had nothing but two packages of Ramen noodles left, and another week to go before they could purchase any food.  He said Father G and others were going to bed hungry each night, and they kept this to themselves.

But the inmate who wrote to me also told me that there was a new inmate in that unit who was living in the overflow bunks in the recreation area of this overcrowded prison.  This man is diabetic, and one night had seizures from hypoglycemia. The prisoner said that Pornchai – called “Ponch” by other inmates – brought this man the last two packages of Ramen noodles he had, and told him to come and get hot water for them whenever he needed them.

I asked Pornchai why he did this.  He seemed embarrassed that I had learned of it, but finally said, “I’ve been hungry and know what it’s like.  It’s what St. Maximilian would have done.  It’s what he would want me to do.”  He didn’t seem to want me to write about this, but of all the struggles he copes with day to day for 24 years in prison, this incident seems the one that best defines him. This is the guy the justice system up there just described as showing inadequate “evidence that you have made a substantial and sustained effort to lead a positive and productive life.”

I asked Pornchai – “Max” – if he was discouraged by the recent denial of hisClemency Petition for commutation of his sentence after 24 years in prison. After all, I just read this week that the maximum sentence in the U.S. federal prisons for inmates convicted of that same crime is 23 years, and Pornchai has already surpassed that. He said that he plans to try again next summer, but what he really wanted to talk about was Pope Francis.

Max told me that he and Father Gordon MacRae both listened to Pope Francis address a jointsession of Congress during his recent visit to the United States, and Max was very excited to hear the Holy Father mention Thomas Merton. Max said that Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that a reader of These Stone Wallsprinted and sent to him last year.  He said that this prayer has become the defining sense of his life, past, present and future. Max said that this is now his prayer for the Year of Mercy.  I struggled to contain my emotions as Max read it to me:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude)

Pornchai Maximilian Moontri October 2015

So our friend Pornchai is now Pornchai-Max, and I for one welcome the addition.  At some point – hopefully a year from now if justice and mercy prevail – he will be released from the prison to which he was consigned at age 18.  At that point, he will be detained elsewhere until his deportation to Thailand, a country he has not seen since childhood.

Last year Felix Carroll and Marian Press published a wonderful book, Love, Lost, Found, with a chapter that chronicles the story of Porchai Moontri and his Divine Mercy conversion.  The Divine Mercy apostolate in Bangkok has become very interested in Pornchai-Max, and plans to receive him when he arrives.  But he will have to start his life over and that is no easy task.  As this coming Year of Mercy commences, lets make this a mission of mercy.

If you, or anyone you know, wants to help restore a life and future for Pornchai, gifts to a fund for him can be sent via the Pay-Pal link at the Home Page of TheseStone Walls.  Simply mention in your message that your gift is to be used for the support of Pornchai Moontri and it will be marked for this purpose by his Godmother, Charlene Duline, who manages that Pay-Pal account.  You may also make checks out to Pornchai Moontri and mail to me at:

Pornchai Moontri
c/o Ryan A. MacDonald
P.O. Box 68732
Indianapolis, IN 46268-0732

To assist in the support of both Fr. Gordon and Pornchai you may use the same PayPal link above or  address your check to:

Fr. Gordon J. MacRae
P.O. Box 205
Wilmington, MA 01887-0205

loved lost found felix carrollInquiries can be sent to me at macdonaldryan8@gmail.com.

Thank you for reading.  Let the Year of Mercy commence!

Love, Lost, Found:  17 Divine Mercy Conversions by Felix Carroll is available at Amazon.com

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The Parable of the Prisoner – by Sir Michael Brandon

PORNCHAI08There once was a little boy, born in a far off land.  While he was still very young, his mother left him and moved to a distant country, and he was placed into the prison of abandonment.  And the Father wept for His little beloved.
The little boy was taken in by family, but was put to work at a very early age, and so received no formal education.  He was placed in a prison of ignorance.  And the Father wept for His little beloved.

PORNCHAI04After many years, his mother returned with her husband from a distant country and took the little boy away with her to the distant country where he did not know the language, the customs or any of its people. He was placed in a prison of fear and confusion. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

His step father was an evil man and sexually abused him.  Though he tried to run away he was brought back to the home of his step father, where he was continually abused.  He was placed in a prison of revulsion and anger.

Finally, he escaped and lived on the streets until one night he was involved in the death of another man.  He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison.  He was first in a prison of remorse, sadness, and hatred, and then was placed in a prison of the body. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

-He was moved from prison to prison from cell to cell. So, added to the prisons of his life thus far, his circumstances had placed him into a prison of loneliness. And the Father wept for His little beloved.

But, unbeknownst to him, another man had been sentenced, for crimes that never happened, to the prison where he was finally settled.  This man was a Catholic priest, and even though he himself knew the prison of abandonment, he did not allow it to define his life and so he befriended the young man from the far off land, and led him to relationship with Jesus Christ. And the Father leaped for joy to see His little beloved on the path to freedom, the path for which He had sent His Son to bleed and die, and then to rise again.

lourdes-grotto.jpgAs time passed, the young man and his priest friend consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  They also discovered two very dear friends among the saints, Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint Padre Pio.

Under the protection of Our Holy Mother, the Blood of Jesus Christ and with the intercession of their dear friends the saints, the prison walls of both of their lives have been disintegrating, because they cannot stand against the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

This parable, like all parables is meant for each of us to ponder for we too have been placed in the prisons of our emotions by our circumstances, whether we were misled by others, or consciously took paths that led to these prisons.  How we came to be in the prisons of our lives is far less important than how we can leave them behind.

PORNCHAI11You see, some of these prisons, the prisons of our minds are prisons that we have willingly entered in the hope of escaping the other prisons of our lives.  But, exchanging one prison for another or adding another prison to our already tortured lives is not the answer.

Whatever the question, the answer is Jesus Christ.  He was and is the perfect gift from the Father to you and to me, because He took on all our prisons and allowed them to be nailed to the Cross with Him.  He returned them to their rightful place, Hell, and then He rose again from the dead.

1c96c-pornchail-moontri-baptism-5-1Unlike most parables, this one is based on the true story of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, and his mentor and best friend Father Gordon MacRae.

So, unlike most parables this one is before us every day for us to ponder, pray on, and then to accept the love of Christ, and the love of His Blessed Mother that has been bringing salvation to both Pornchai and to Father Gordon.

Let the Father leap for joy at your acceptance of His Son as your Saviour. Let the Father leap for joy as you give your heart to Jesus to repair and heal, and to Mary to love you as only a perfect mother can.

PORNCHAI12And turn to These Stone Walls and read as the parable continues to unfold.

==== This wonderful piece of writing (Sunday, September 14, 2014) comes to us from Sir Michael Brandon, who blogs at FreeThroughTruth.

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Decision of the Clemency Board in the Petition of Pornchai Moontri (comment by Father Gordon MacRae)

Pornchai Maximilian Moontri October 2015

Many readers know that Pornchai Moontri has been involved in a Petition for Clemency for the Governor’s Clemency Board in the State of Maine where his conviction took place in 1992. Readers also know that he has been in prison since age 18 and is in his 24th year of his sentence. Based upon the facts of his radical conversion and rehabilitation, and the fact that he has been ordered to be deported to his native Thailand immediately upon release from prison, we have been seeking some commutation of his sentence. Since many readers asked for news of this, I am posting the decision of the Commutations Board followed by a statement of Clare Farr, an attorney who has been helping him with this pro bono. Please, keep this ongoing effort in your prayers. Divine Mercy blessings, Father Gordon MacRae

The Decision of the Clemency Board

Governor LePage has referred your clemency request to the Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency. After careful review of your petition and supporting documentation, the Board has denied your request for a clemency hearing for the following reason.

The Board did not find your petition to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to warrant a hearing at this time. Although there is no single definition or standard for ‘exceptional circumstances,’ at a minimum you must demonstrate a compelling and appropriate need for clemency and provide evidence that you have made a substantial and sustained effort to lead a positive and productive life over an extended period of time.

While the Board’s denial of a hearing is final, you may reapply for a hearing in the future, but you must wait at least one year before submitting a new petition.

Sincerely,
Debbie Marceau, Pardon Clerk, Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency
cc: Hank Fenton

Statement of Counsel, Clare Farr

Pornchai has now received a decision on his application to the Governor and his application has been declined.

In July he lodged an application asking for the Governor to commute the balance of his sentence to time already served. There is only one ground for such an application, and that is that there are “exceptional circumstances” which warrant the governor to exercise his executive powers and grant the application.

There is no definition of what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” and it is up to each applicant to make out his case – and there are no other guidelines as to how to make out such a case.

Whilst Pornchai’s story is well known to you all, there is a lot that is not publicly known and which was set out in the application with verification from a number of sources. I am truly shocked that the Board would not see this as a case that should move forward. It is a great travesty.

That said, it doesn’t end here. In 12 months Pornchai is able to lodge another application so we will go through all this again next year.

Pornchai’s case has merit – and in my view it should have been successful. Pornchai’s application was very strong – and I believe that it’s only a matter of time before we meet with success.

In the meantime, I thank each and every one of you for helping with prayers, information, giving statements and whatever you have done to help Max. You are on this email list because you care and you are a good friend to Pornchai. I know that he is extremely grateful to you.

Please keep Pornchai and Father Gordon in your prayers.

Kind regards
Clare Farr

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Get to know Pornchai Moontri through a chapter in a recent book dedicated to human interest stories

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loved lost found felix carroll

Pornchai Moontri’s story summary

Felix Carroll’s book Loved, Lost, Found: 17 Divine Mercy Conversions, has a chapter dedicated to Pornchai Moontri’s story. This is provided below.

Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Marian Press
1st edition (March 10, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159614274X
ISBN-13: 978-1596142749

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CHAPTER 11

Pornchai Moontri
Mercy Inside Those Stone Walls

Sweetest Mother, continue to teach me about the interior life.
May the sword of suffering never break me.
O pure Virgin, pour courage into my heart and guard it.

— Prayer of St. Faustina to the Sorrowful Mother (Diary of St. Faustina, 915)

Pornchai Moontri remembers he was carrying his knife, and he remembers struggling to get out from under the weight of a man much heavier than he. He doesn’t remember much else other than that he was out of his mind from years of rage and a night of too much drinking.

PORCHAI MOONTRI MAX 00But this is what authorities in Bangor, Maine, pieced together: Pornchai, a native of Thailand, stumbled into a Shop ‘n Save supermarket in March 1992, proceeded to take beer from the refrigerator, open it, and drink from it. When confronted by a store manager, he tried to flee. Outside in the parking lot an altercation ensued, and a 27-year-old Shop ‘n Save employee was killed with a knife wielded by Pornchai.

Pornchai was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was 19 years old at the time. He’s 39 years old today. Inside New Hampshire State Prison, Pornchai is inmate # 77948, a number not a name. But God numbers every single hair on our heads, as Pornchai has learned from Scripture (see Lk 12:7), so how much more God must cherish every single one of His children, including — and most especially — the most broken, those in most need of His mercy.

PORNCHAI15It took Pornchai years of self-righteous anger, years of self-pity, misery, and hopelessness, before he was graced with the realization that God is real, that He is Mercy Incarnate. This realization culminated when, in the prison chapel, he received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation on April 10, 2010. The following day — the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday — he received his First Holy Communion from the Most Rev. John McCormack, Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire. The date was no accident.

1c96c-pornchail-moontri-baptism-5-1In a series of revelations to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, the Lord called for this special feast day. “On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open,” Christ promised. “… The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are opened all the divine floodgates through which graces flow. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (Diary of St. Faustina, 699).

“In the course of my life,” Pornchai says, “for what I have done and what has been done to me, I do need God’s mercy, and He has given it to me.”

That speaks volumes coming from a man who has spent more than half of his life behind bars.

In a trial that lasted little more than a week, the jury sided with the prosecutor who argued that Pornchai had a “depraved indifference to the value of human life,” as one press account reported.

PORNCHAI04The jury found him guilty of murder. But the jury heard nary a word about the life Pornchai led before that terrible evening. His court-appointed attorney said nothing of the victimhood Pornchai, himself, withstood long before his crime was committed. Nothing about how, two years after his birth in northern Thailand in 1973, Pornchai’s mother abandoned him. Nothing about how he never attended grade school.

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Nothing about how his mother re-emerged with a new husband, an American, when he was 11 years old and took him to the United States against his will. Nothing was said about his assertion that his stepfather repeatedly raped him over a period of three years. Nothing about how in the racially monochromatic Maine of his youth, he was called “gook” by his classmates who did everything they could to make him feel like an outcast because of his appearance and stupid because of his broken English.

PORNCHAI10Nothing about how, at the age 14, anger was all he had. He left home and lived on the streets of Bangor. He was placed in a school for troubled teens and promptly kicked out for fighting. He went back to living in the streets and felt it prudent to carry a knife for self-protection.

By the time he got to prison, it wasn’t self-protection he sought. Rather, it was self-destruction. He was remorseful for the murder of an innocent man. He could hardly bear to think about it. Just so the pain could end, he did everything within his power to provoke fellow inmates into killing him.

“Really, I wanted them to beat me to death or stab me with a homemade knife,” he says. “To me at the time, I had no reason to live.”

PORNCHAI13

Because of his violent tendencies, Pornchai was placed into solitary confinement many times for a combined six-plus years. What that often meant was spending 23 hours a day alone in a tiny cell. On his first day in “solitary,” he entered the cell, and it was so filthy he took the advice of a neighboring inmate to set off the fire sprinklers in order to hose the cell down. It worked, more or less, but it also prompted the first of many instances whereby he was pulled from his cell and subdued by men in full riot gear, his limbs bent backwards nearly to the point of snapping.

He slept on a cement cot. He had 45 minutes of recreation time per day where he was brought to a five-feet wide by eight-feet long chain-link cage. He was given a dab of toothpaste each day to brush his teeth using his finger. He was not permitted to have a toothbrush. Is it possible to kill oneself with a toothbrush?

He probably would have tried if given the chance.

Without a second thought, Pornchai would have cut an artery or hung himself if he had the means.

frontline

[[Editor’s note: The prisoners in this Frontline documentary are all known to Pornchai, who has now entered an entirely different life: Frontline Solitary Nation, a production about the solitary confinement “supermax” unit of the Maine State Prison where Pornchai Moontri spent thirteen years before being transferred to the New Hampshire prison.]]

He had access to three books per week. He chose the thickest in order to make them last. Those books included a peculiar combination of Stephen King novels and the Bible, which he said he read cover to cover twice. Pornchai could relate to the horror, violence, and psychological depravity depicted by Stephen King in novels often set in — of all places — small-town Maine. As for relating to the Bible — not so much. Hope and salvation were the stuff of fiction, not much different than a haunted 1958 Plymouth Fury in the King novel Christine or the monster lurking in a small town’s sewers in IT. Still, anything that could help drown out the madness of prison life and that of his own mind was worth the effort.

“Inmates would do anything to try to break up their day and entertain themselves,” Pornchai says. “Some played with their own urine and feces, and others used those as weapons, throwing them at the guards after calling their names to get their attention.”

He says he survived those early years of his incarceration by doing push-ups — as many as 1,500 a day — “and venting as much of my anger, frustration, and energy as possible into physical fitness.”

He says, “In a way, this also worked against me. The more physically strong I became, the more I was treated like a dangerous animal.”

MURDER IN GUAM - TAIt was in solitary confinement where he learned of the death of his mother. She was murdered, in Guam, where she had relocated.

“I was now alone in my rage,” Pornchai says. When he finally was released for good from solitary confinement, he says, he had at least as many psychological problems as the day he entered prison.

“I was angry, depressed, often hostile, and anti-social,” he says.

He was transferred from the prison in Maine to New Hampshire State Prison, and he viewed the transfer as an opportunity for “a new beginning.” He was placed within the general prison population, and his urge to commit violence had subsided. Eventually, he formed a friendship that changed his life.

It was with a Catholic priest.

PORNCHAI12Through a fellow inmate, Pornchai met the Rev. Gordon MacRae, a down-to-earth, straightforward spiritual man and prolific writer who seemed to have a lot of answers to a lot of questions. Is there a God? Who is He? How can we be sure? Why should we trust?

Father Gordon, 59, was convicted in 1994 on five sexual assault counts that have since been called into question, including by The Wall Street Journal whose two-part series in 2005 brought national attention to his case. He has had wide public support for his cause, including from the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, who encouraged Fr. Gordon to continue writing, which he does through a website, thesestonewalls.com, administered by a friend from outside of prison.

Pornchai had no idea who he was dealing with, and he and Fr. Gordon’s first meetings were not particularly transcendent. Rather, they were all business.

“I was real hostile and told [Fr. Gordon] I just wanted him to help me get transferred to a prison in Bangkok, Thailand,” Pornchai says.

prison thailand

Father Gordon told him to be careful what he asked for. “I won’t help you pursue something that will only further destroy you,” he said.

Pornchai was bewildered by this guy.

“I didn’t care if I would be ‘destroyed,’” Pornchai recalls, “so why on earth should Gordon care? I was hostile to him for a long time. I had mastered the art of driving anyone who cared away from me, but in Gordon, I had met my match.”

PORNCHAI11Indeed, in contrast to just about every inmate with whom Pornchai had come into contact, Fr. Gordon wanted nothing from him. Not a thing. And to boot, he didn’t thump his Bible, and he didn’t judge. He was — well — nice, a trait in short supply in prison.

How peculiar that was for Pornchai. What a stark contrast to the loss and emptiness in his own life. Still, turning with trust to another person carried great risks. Why? Because trust could leave Pornchai vulnerable. He had spent most of his life standing in the debris of some form of broken trust. Trust in his family. Trust in his peers. Trust in the justice system. Trust in himself. He had learned long ago not to trust anyone or anything. It was too risky. Plus, he was still acclimating to his “new beginning,” his sharp transformation from depression, anxiety, self-hate, guilt, and fear. He was still adjusting from a life of misery to one of mere unhappiness.

-Within a few months of meeting Fr. Gordon, Pornchai was moved into the same unit as his. The two became fast friends and eventually cellmates — and the trust blossomed. “By patience and especially by example, Gordon helped me change the course of my life,” Pornchai says. “He is my best friend and the person I trust most in this world.”

The two share a 96-square-feet cell that serves as living room, bedroom, kitchen, and toilet. The cell’s built-in mirror sits over the sink. The mirror is warped, like one of those carnival fun-house mirrors. In the morning, when they lean into it to wash or shave, their faces look misshapen. In a way, it’s a cruel joke. In prison, you are condemned to hold the proverbial mirror to yourself. And if you’re not careful, a distorted self-image stares right back at you.

Pornchai doesn’t fall for it anymore. For him now, a warped mirror is just a warped mirror, another indignity of prison life. Besides, when he leans in close enough — to his own reflection, to his own heart — the distortion diminishes. He can see himself the way others now see him. Eyes that once smoldered with coiled rage now sparkle with purpose and compassion. He laughs when he describes the reaction he gets now from prisoners who knew him back before his conversion.

“They now see a man who, despite the pain and difficulty of being in prison, is at peace,” he says.

Pornchai says Fr. Gordon never pushed him into becoming Catholic.

“He never even brought it up,” Pornchai says. “I was pulled to it by the force of grace and the hope that one day I could do good for others.”

PORNCHAI14Through Fr. Gordon, Pornchai discovered the saints and the Blessed Mother. In the saints, particularly Maximilian Kolbe, he discovered what it means to truly be a man, what it means to be tough. Toughness isn’t carrying a knife and brandishing it against those he perceives as a threat. Toughness isn’t getting beaten to the point of near death and not caring about it. A man doesn’t seek to destroy other men. A man doesn’t hold his own needs above the needs of others. A real man is selfless. In St. Maximilian Kolbe, who certainly knew what it was like to be stripped of his humanity and dignity, Pornchai finds recourse because Kolbe never caved in to despair. He professed his love for God, and there was no pussyfooting around about it. In 1941, at Auschwitz, he gave his life to save that of another man. That’s manhood. That’s tough. And that’s why Pornchai took the name Maximilian as his Christian name when he was baptized. Modeling himself on Maximilian, Pornchai now reaches out to fellow prisoners who are having a difficult time, including those in danger from other inmates. Some prison guards now steer vulnerable inmates toward Pornchai and Fr. Gordon.

“They know that we’ll show them the ropes and how to do the right things to avoid creating hardship for themselves, for other inmates, and for the guards,” says Pornchai.

lourdes-grotto.jpgIn the Blessed Mother, Pornchai discovered what it means to say yes to God. She is his “Mama Mary.” When the archangel tells Mary that she is to bear the Son of God and name Him Jesus, she surrenders herself completely to the Divine plan: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She says yes, despite the implications for her future — her life’s plans would be shattered. Yes, despite the danger to her — a Jewish woman pregnant out of wedlock could be stoned to death. Yes, despite the awesome responsibility — the call to be the Mother of the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

That’s faith. That’s no fooling around.

Even when surrounded by doubters, Mary remained steadfast in her faith — including at the most critical moment, on Calvary, when promises made at the Annunciation didn’t seem to be coming true.

Was such acceptance of God’s will easy? No, and it isn’t for Pornchai either. But he did things his own way for years, and where did that lead? After all he went through, surrendering to God only made sense. He could surrender all those fears and all the burdens he had carried. He could accept that while society has judged him, God hasn’t.

pornchai-maximilian-moontri.pngPornchai and Fr. Gordon keep religious images on their cell walls, including of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and the Divine Mercy image of Jesus.

Through Jesus Himself and through these holy servants of the Lord — more rewarding than through that warped mirror — they lean in and seek their own reflections in Christ.

Pornchai has immersed himself in religious studies. He earned his Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). He’s excellent at detailed carpentry, including building model ships. He lives a life of prayer and performs deeds of mercy. Gifted in math, Pornchai tutors inmates who also seek to obtain their high school equivalency diplomas.

PORNCHAI MOONTRI MODEL SHIP BUILDING 00

Fellow inmate, Donald Spinner, a Catholic convert, says his faith took root through Pornchai’s example.

“Pornchai, especially, has influenced so many people here,” he says. “We all expect Father G. to be a good person, but Pornchai’s life of grace is inspiring to everyone. … The cost of discipleship for me has been the loss of my selfishness. No one can be selfish in such company.”

For Fr. Gordon, Pornchai has been an inspiration, a blessing from God that has helped him on his own difficult journey. “I have never met a man more determined to live the faith he has professed than Pornchai Moontri,” Fr. Gordon says. “In the darkness and aloneness of a prison cell night after night for the last two of his 20 years in prison, Pornchai has stared down the anxiety of uncertainty, he has struggled for reasons to believe, and he has found them.”

In less than two years, Pornchai will be eligible for a commutation or reduction in his sentence. He prays for his release. It would at least give him enough time to start a new life at a relatively young age. Still, when given his freedom, he is to be immediately deported back to Thailand, a place he hasn’t been to since he was 11 and whose language he never learned to read and write. He hasn’t even heard Thai spoken for more than 25 years.

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Moreover, he has no connections there. He’ll step off the plane — then what? The only thing he’s sure of is that he will step upon the land where he was born, having experienced a rebirth. From there, he hopes to serve in a ministry helping troubled youth.

“From age 11 to 32, I always felt I was alone, that no one cared and no one loved me,” Pornchai says. “I want to be able to help those who are struggling like I did. I ask in my prayers every night that God will use me as an instrument. That’s what I look forward to.”

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Divine Mercy Thailand

Editor’s Note: Felix Carroll has twice won the New York Press Association Journalist of the Year Award, and is the recipient of many journalism awards from both secular and religious publications. He is currently executive editor of the renowned Marian Helper magazine.

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PORNCHAI MOONTRI – MERCY TO THE MAX – ABOUT THIS NEW BLOG – UPDATE

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MERCY TO THE MAX, is, at present, owned, published and edited by Father George David Byers, the webmaster here and a long time friend of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri. Copyrights on articles by Pornchai belong to him. Copyrights on articles and books written by others belong to them. We thank them for allowing their works to be gathered here.

As time goes on, more articles by and about Pornchai will be added in posts and pages on the menu at the top of the blog. Here you will also be able to follow some of the progress of the epic journey from the hell of most of his life until his present encounter with the Divine Mercy.

This site is only being established at this time. Soon, there will be FaceBook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts by which you will be able to follow and spread the word about one of the great heroes of our time, a hero because of his continued perseverance in goodness and kindness of the Divine Mercy in the most adverse of circumstances.

* The hand-carved, hand-roped and sailed model ships highlighted in the slideshow above were all created by Pornchai, just as example of one of his many talents with which to distract you as you get to know him, as you are inspired by him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From Father Gordon MacRae [About] of These Stone Walls:

As this effort gets underway, we want to introduce you to Mercy to the Max, a new site that collects in one place the many writings of some well known and less known Catholic writers who have taken up pen to bring you this remarkable story. They include the journalist, Felix Carroll, now Executive Editor of Marian Helpermagazine, Ryan MacDonald, a columnist with Spero News, several posts from These Stone Walls, and other writers whose names you will recognize.

Our friends who created the new site will be adding to it over time until the entire story is told. This is where we need your help. As we launch Mercy to the Max [ https://mercytothemax.wordpress.com/ ], it is important to create links to it on the sidebars of your websites and blogs, your FaceBook and Linked-in pages, etc., and then click on those links! These “authorities” coming from authentic sources kickstart internet search indexers to pay attention to Mercy to the Max. This is critically important to the effort now underway.

There is really an incredible and inspiring story behind all this, and it will be told in due time in its entirety on These Stone Walls. In the meantime, please take some time to review Mercy to the Max, and to share a link wherever you can, clicking on those links to make sure they work! Let’s make this a team effort. And please do spend some time there, getting ready for updates, etc., by bookmarking the site and using the sharing buttons.

UPDATE from Father Gordon J. MacRae:

I cannot express in words how grateful I am for this site. To demonstrate the tremendous transfiguration of Pornchai, I would like to ask readers to do a very simple thing. Go to Bing.com and do a search – Pornchai Moontri – no quotes necessary. Just peruse the first couple of pages of results for an example of some of the marvelous things being written about this Divine Mercy conversion. The reason I suggest using Bing.com is that Google is currently under law suits for anti-trust violations for allegations of favoring sites that carry its content and penalizing sites that do not when publishing search engine results. Mercy to the Max seems to be one of the sites Google penalizes. Go to google and do a search and compare the results (just hit the link): – Pornchai Moontri – . The search results at Bing.com appear to be a far more honest analysis. Thank you and God bless you for sharing a link to this site with others. I consider it an important Corporal Work of Mercy.

With blessings,
Father Gordon MacRae

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