For These I Toll the Bell
November 1st was All Saints Day, and for the first time since I’ve been in prison our Protestant service celebrated the holiday. During the service, a time was set aside for congregants to come forward and name the cherished loved ones who have died. An inmate tolled a bell for each loved one remembered. It was somber in some respects, but it also allowed prisoners to publicly remember and acknowledge those whom they have lost, something unusual in the prison environment.

Most prisoners grieve, silent and alone, when someone they loved dies. Since I have been in prison, I have lost two sisters-in-law, a father-in-law, a mother-in-law, a great-aunt, and two grandfathers. Others who I considered friends have also died. Most of these deaths I grieved silently because I was not surrounded by a supportive community who could share my grief. Instead, I grieved alone. 

The sad reality is that many prisoners lose loved ones while locked away, leaving them unable to participate in communal grieving. But death is not the only way prisoners lose loved ones. While I’ve lost at least seven beloved people to death in nearly ten years, I have lost relationships with many more friends and family alike. Some have chosen to cut me out of their lives because of my crime, some for other reasons (I am left to guess), but all have been a grievous loss to me. Again, I have been left to grieve these losses alone. 

Some people might blame God when death claims someone they love, but for many of the relationships I’ve lost with people I love, I have had nobody to blame but myself. It’s true, I may have lost some of these relationships even if I had not committed a crime. Yet, I still can’t help but blame myself for these losses too. No matter what I do to change my life and try to make right the wrongs I’ve done, some of these relationships will probably never be healed. For those relationships, with much grief I toll the bell.

For others, I hold out hope for reconciliation, for restored relationship, for a fresh start. For some of these relationships, I refuse to toll the bell until no earthly possibility exists for reconciliation. Some people might think it’s delusional to believe that these relationships can be repaired. Sometimes I’m tempted to think the same. But I believe that God is capable of far more than we can ask or think, and therein lies my hope. 

To those whom I have lost to death too soon, some still estranged, let me say with the poet John Donne, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.