- Fr. Christian Reuter, O.F.M., Coordinator of Prison Ministry for Diocese of Belleville, IL is the 2017-2018 nominee for Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) Award by the Belleville Diocese. The Lumen Christi nominees are the hidden heroes in our midst who bring light and hope to the forgotten corners of our communities by lifting up the dignity and the human spirit of the outcast, marginalized and poverty stricken.
- Brian Nelson’s letter of support for the nomination of Fr. Christian is just one example of his prison ministry service and the power of faith that can transform lives even under the circumstances of being locked up in Tamms Supermax Prsion, but still allow the “Light of Christ” to shine through into the gray box of his home for 12 years.
- Brian Nelson currently works as a Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator for the Uptown People’s Law Center (Chicago, IL) at https://uplcchicago.org/ and his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 17, 2017
Re: Nomination of Father Christian Reuter for the Lumen Christi Award
Dear Nomination Committee Members:
I am writing to express my support for the nomination of Father Christian Reuter for Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi award. Fr. Chris saved my life, so supporting his nomination for me is a no brainer.
I met Fr. Chris in the midst of the 12 years I spent locked in Tamms Supermax Prison (Tamms, Illinois) that is now closed. Even though it has now been almost six years since I was released from the gray box that was my cell—my entire life—Tamms, most of the time I am asked to speak about my experience, I immediately flashback and begin to relive the horrific experience I suffered in that gray box at Tamms. I become fearful and the psychological torture explodes within me. I can smell the walls. The isolation and torture comes roaring back into my head. I panic.
Yet this was not my reaction when I was asked to write about Fr. Chris and the relationship we developed at Tamms. Instead, I actually smiled. Though we meet in a torture chamber full of psychological horrors, Fr. Chris was the light that washed the gray from the walls of Tamms.
Most civilians that entered Tamms accepted, consciously or unconsciously, the ugly myth that only “the worst of the worst” were housed at Tamms, and viewed everyone at Tamms as “monsters.” Fr. Chris walked into Tamms and treated everyone as a human being. He bestowed upon us what seems like something very simple, but it meant everything, his greatest gift was a smile and kind word for everyone.
Many of the men at Tamms never received a visit, never got any mail, and never saw anyone with whom they could converse like a human being. The loneliness became overwhelming to them. While other visitors to Tamms would ignore these abandoned souls, Fr. Chris would stop and chat for a bit with everyone—Catholic or not.
I fell inside, and only through faith and belief was I able to struggle to endure day to day. I turned to the Catholic faith I learned as a child, and began to explore that faith in a deep and personal way. I discovered who Saint Benedict was having gone to St. Benedict School in Chicago as a child and learned about the rules of St. Benedict, and the version of those rules followed by the Cistercian monks. I decided that I needed to emulate the lives of those monks, and as no work assignments were permitted to prisoners in Tamms, I assigned myself the task of producing a hand written copy of the Bible. It took me endless days, but I completed my task!
Despite my dedication to my religious beliefs, Tamms remained unimaginably oppressive. Inside the gray walls every day was the same, and every day was spent alone. I fell into deep depression at times and attempted suicide several times. Men around me engaged in horrible self-mutilation. Some screamed incessantly; others never left their cells for weeks on end. I was truly living in an unrelenting, constant house of torture.
The only exceptions were the days Fr. Chris visited. Those days were great days even inside the belly of the beast. Not only would Fr. Chris come to see me and the other men at Tamms and treated me and everyone else likes human beings. Fr. Chris also brought the Light of the World (Holy Communion) to me. As a Catholic seeing the work that Fr. Chris did for everyone being tortured in solitary confinement, including those from all faiths, and those without faith, conveyed strength beyond measure and love beyond measure. At the lowest depths of depression from all the ugliness around me, hearing Fr. Chris come on the wing would wipe all of it away.
As the IDOC strived to knock us down, I was picked up with overwhelming strength by the kindness that Fr. Chris shared. Our talks about faith and beliefs encouraged me to stand tall in the darkness and to grow closer to Our Lord. With a firm hand, Fr. Chris would make the corrections officers open the chuckhole (food tray slot) so that we could do the Act of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. Even the hardest officers that tried to say no and refused to open the chuckhole for Fr. Chris, they ultimately gave in to his demand to be able to touch me, to perform the rites properly.
As I copied every word of the Holy Bible, Fr. Chris and I discussed if anyone else had ever done such a feat. I learned a lot watching and talking with Fr. Chris and still do to this day. Something everyone should take from Fr. Chris is that no matter how ugly, depressing or terrifying a place is, by treating everyone like a human being and never accepting those who would falsely label someone as less than human, you can become a beacon of light to wash away evil and oppression.
Fr. Chris brought Holy Communion into Tamms so that I could be whole again. Only by experiencing the depth of ugliness/torture being inflicted upon me can a person grasp the true meaning of Fr. Chris’s visits. A blessing beyond compare is what Fr. Chris is! I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of recognition.