human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

The steadfast father

Testimony from a former prisoner

Polish
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Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them

(Hebrews 13:3)

This is a real story. The story of a former prisoner who, step by step, recovered his lost humanity. We met Krystian in prison when he was about to finish serving his sentence. We are now accompanying him after he went out – in this difficult but at the same time full of hope period of his life. We can see how much he is changing. Day by day:

My name is Krystian and I am 33 years old, two of which I have spent in prison. Actually, almost my whole life was a “segregation unit” in which I struggled. First, in the family home, where alcohol and violence were an everyday reality. I remember that as a six-year-old I was hanging on my father, who was beating my mother and sometimes it happened that I have landed on the wall – sore and desperately helpless. Then an accident happened. My younger sister has fallen out of the window, probably looking for a way out of this nightmare, she must have done it by mistake. During holidays, she often went out to the porch in the direction where the window was, she was going for a walk in the forest. She must have had a dream and got confused. She was 8 years old. We escaped from the house with my mother to my grandma’s place, but soon it turned out that my mother had cancer. I saw how chemotherapy and growing tumour were changing her. Soon she died, completely devastated by the sickness. I was 15 years old back then and I remained completely alone.

I did not know who I was anymore

For a short period of time I stayed with my aunt in Warsaw, with a family that I and my relatives saw as exemplary. I heard one night through the wall that my uncle was shouting at my aunt that she took me in. I ran away. I lived in a trailer, started to smoke, drink, then I started to take stronger intoxicants. I got high and blocked my brain from thinking. I did not know who I was anymore.

I rode a bike one night. I saw a light at a closed shop. I craved for cigarettes and alcohol, although I already had BAC 3.5 – according to the police officers who caught me. For the burglary I got a two year suspended sentence instead of a 5-year term, since I had no previous criminal record. In addition, I was obliged to repay the losses suffered by the owner of the shop, which he estimated at 9,000 PLN. I do not know how he calculated it, maybe he thought that the more he would ask the more he will be able to recover. But I did not have anything to pay him back with. Firstly, I started working as a cleaner at the swimming pool, then got other small cleaning jobs. I really wanted to pay back all the debt, but I had barely enough money to provide for myself.

During this time, I started drug rehabilitation and I met Iwona. For the first time I experienced real love, and then our son Macius was born. A new Krystian began to wake up in my heart. But still, some part of my brain was turned off. The methadone treatment kept me in a state of semi-senility, although it alleviated the symptoms of a drug-related hunger. I felt neither any emotion nor fear. Sometimes anxiety and longing.

In prison I started to think

When Macius was one year old, they un-suspended my probation for failure in paying the debt, and I went to prison in “S”. At that time I was really in the “segregation unit.” Behind those walls my dearest ones were left: Iwona and Macius, the only people that really kept me alive. And the shadow of hope that it is still possible to fix everything, to change it. I knew that it will take a serious effort to get out of prison and that it will be a fight. Despite this, I felt desperately helpless and weak.

I was alone again. Nobody visited me, I wrote tons of letters, but I did not receive any answers. Then I started to write letters to Macius, I drew him various pets, I wrote him how much I love him. But what I got back was only silence. Then I asked a prison psychologist to stop giving me methadone. Slowly the ability to think clearly started to come back to me. I knew that I needed to make good use of those two years of seclusion.

I went to the chaplain and started preparation for Confirmation. Many times we met later, whether on the occasion of a confession or a conversation, which was my only source of strength at that time. I also started to see better. Only then I saw how many times God intervened in my life and tried to protect me. At least till I was allowing Him. In prison God was working in me, but I was also working on myself.

For two whole years I cleaned the prison rooms, I threw away the garbage – without a salary, because there was no possibility of getting a job. And I really wanted to pay off my debt and alimony. Only about 30 prisoners were working and getting salary in the prison where 1,200 people were incarcerated. The debts and interests of other prisoners were growing constantly. However, I did not waste my time. I did not want prison to get into me. I did not allow myself to be tattooed or drawn into any prison group. I completed a printing course and a course for a technician of finishing works in the building construction, I tried to learn something new every day, but above all, I tried to plan my future after getting out.

At night I often could not sleep, various images of my life were moving in my head. I was constantly questioning : “Is it really me?”

When the Caritas program of help for prisoners and their families called “2 steps” began in the prison, I started to take part in workshops, I signed up to the Father’s Club, where classes were held to prepare for meeting children after the period of separation. They were led by the father of the family under the slogan “The steadfast father.” I participated in the classes, but I was already convinced that I wanted to be a good father for Macius and never allow him to go the wrong way.

Kristian, participant in a Caritas program for prisoners

I was afraid, like all other prisoners to get out and be free, though I couldn’t wait for the moment. I was afraid of the first steps, I did not know where I would live, if I would find a job, how my relatives would react to me. I missed Macius and Iwona terribly, but our relationship was already weakened by these two years of separation. It finally hit me how much they both suffered because of me.

I will make it, if I manage to persist

I got out in February this year. I got the money for a ticket to Warsaw and I was assured that there is a place waiting for me in the shelter. There was also the opportunity to join the program of getting out of homelessness and addictions “We’ll make it!” with Caritas Poland.

The representative of the program visited me in prison and assured me that together we will make it, if I manage to persist. After joining the group, I immediately felt good in it. I was accepted, and I could honestly talk about myself. I felt like in a real home, at a round table, where bigger and smaller problems are solved together. I missed this for my whole life. I was also employed as a technical maintenance worker on good terms and in a good team with a wide range of responsibilities. I always wanted to have such a job – legal and in a good environment.

But the greatest experience was meeting with Macius, who was already 3 years old then. I was very scared: will I not be a stranger to him? Will I find the right words to greet him? Will he get scared of me? It was thanks to him that I got up every day, and thinking about him gave me the strength in my darkest moments. Now I could finally see him. He accepted me in the most normal way. I remember sitting on the carpet together and building a garage made of cardboard for the toy helicopter that I brought him. I began to regain consciousness of who I am. I felt tears and joy at the same time. I also felt regret that I have hurt people that I love.

This is how it is today

I am still living in a shelter, but with the knowledge that this is just a “stopover on my road.” I continue my therapy in the framework of the programme “We’ll make it!” I have a support group here and a psychologist’s help. All this helped me to calm down and to strengthen my good resolutions. I see how my determinations are gradually being accomplished and how much luck I had in my life that I have met the right people, who gave me a helping hand. I would like that anyone that is leaving the penitentiary facility and really wants to do something with their lives would have the possibility to receive support like I did, and then, the possibility to follow the road to freedom on their own.

Note from the author
In Caritas Poland there are currently four full-time employees, who went through various hardships: they were imprisoned or homeless and addicted, or even all of these. However, they managed to turn the corner and are good and conscientious workers now. These four men participate in the “Damy rade!” (We’ll make it) programme. This is a Caritas Poland programme for young people aged 25-35 who wish to get out of homelessness and addictions.

Alternative Text

author

Janusz Sukiennik

Social Projects Specialist
Caritas Poland

faith and action