By Sister Susan Smolinsky who serves as a county jail chaplain in New York.
When I arrived back in new admits (72 hours quarantine pre-pandemic) to begin my usual rounds, the women had been locked in all day due to an earlier disturbance. The officer indicated it was now safe for me to proceed and I walked toward a single hand and forearm reaching out to me through the waist-high drawer (4”x 12” opening) in her gate (cell door). Immediately her hand grasped mine as she talked, sobbed and I listened. She was eager for comfort, company and understanding. After a while she asked me to help her pray and, as we ended our prayer, I offered a blessing that I shared slowly and carefully. As she bowed her head, I traced the sign of the cross on her palm – and then she knelt so I could reach in and do the same on her forehead. When she responded ‘amen’ I suddenly heard a chorus of ‘amens’ travel around the cellblock! I looked up to the top tier and around the lower tier – at every gate a woman was standing and smiling at me. I was surrounded by two dozen hands stretching out to me, accompanied by voices longing for hope and thanking me for being with them. I then proceeded to listen to, visit with and pray with each one of them. All those hungry, thirsty, wounded, bare, lonely, imprisoned hands … the hands of God that reached out, touched and held my hands on one simple summer afternoon.