As expected and was predicted, cold pressed in Vilnius and has frozen the beautiful village scenery. After almost two months of clouds, the sun came out again, and the virus that put our whole community to bed has succumbed to our defense.
Minus twenty degrees Celsius is not unusual for this part of Europe. In fact, the temperature can drop much lower and some believe that this will indeed happen soon.
There’s nothing wrong with such cold, of course if you are staying somewhere warm. But, unfortunately, from Lithuania, as well as from other parts of northern Europe, few deaths are reported.
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Many people on the street were not spared – alcohol helps just as much that you can fall asleep with a warm feeling, but certainly does not help you to wake up in the morning.
Driving to the centre with a frozen car
When we had a day-off, we took a car and drove to the center of Vilnius. Before we left, we had to wait almost an hour for the old Opel to unfreeze, and then had to drive half-way to the city until it started to heat up a bit and finally thawed the ice from the car.
Frost, however, did not stop our daily routine in the Ark house. After New Year’s holiday all the boys and girls are the back to their usual work. Unlike Ark in Rome, which has the workshop room within the community, our community does the occupational activities in the center nearby. Me and Silva intend to visit soon. It will be interesting to see them from a different perspective.
Visit to prisoners sentenced to life
In the largest Lithuanian prison Lukiškės, there are approximately 1000 prisoners. Most of these are provisional detainees, pending the decision of the court, but there is a constant number of 180 prisoners, of which eighty of those are sentenced to life imprisonment.
The biggest problem of this prison is the lack of space, so the authorities are planning to relocate it. Would not it be great if the problem was that the prison was too empty?
On the outside, the building is far from resembling a dungeon, more but a monastery. It is located in one of the most prestigious parts of Vilnius and interestingly, once it was built as a church. In the 20th century, when it was constructed, it was considered to be the most expensive building structure in the region.
A while ago, a psychologist who occasionally visits prisoners in Lukiškės and writes books, articles and scientific reports, called in to the community. He invited a few Arkers to visit the prison during the planned visit times, usually once a month. This was to allow prisoners to meet with people with intellectual disabilities and spend some time with them.
Psychologist, who is in regular contact with these people, is strongly encouraging charity. As he says, this is the best way to reclaim and soften the heart.
Prisoners have a lot of activities, among other things, they devote time to manual work such as knitting carpets, gloves, socks, caps and making greeting cards. A smaller group of people imprisoned for life are thus offered the opportunity to design their products and donate them to our community.
Meeting the prisoners
It has been eight months needed since the first call, for a prison to arrange the necessary documentation and to verify our members and set the dates.
Martinas and Deividas as representatives of persons with disability have participated and Rima was representing the assistants. The group was joined by the president of the community, Mr Boleslavas.
I was talking to Rima to describe the event. She said that they in fact met seven people who have in the past committed the most serious crimes. Six men and one woman. Everybody in Lithuania are familiar with their faces.
Some are imprisoned for murder and the other for corruption and drugs. Alma will never be forgotten since she killed both of her children. But, as Rima says, Alma was the person to most impress the visitors.
‘I was expecting a cold and gloomy person, but she was the one who was most delighted to see our boys and girls and acted as if they were her old friends.’ she said. ’Other prisoners were standing on the side and they did not come closer, Alma however reflected warmth and joy, hugging everybody and shared her handmade items.’
Martinas and Deividas were a bit shy. ‘Honestly, the atmosphere was cold and not very friendly. The security guards were looking seriously at us and even at the arrival to the premises of the prison, we experienced a rigorous security regime.‘ Rima was telling me.
Martinas aroused the most attention at the arrival. If you knew him, you would find this funny since he is always very quiet, serious, and never wish to be the center of attention.
When he was inspected by the guard, the metal sensor started to beep at his chest. All eyes on Martinas, when suddenly, out of nowhere, he pulled out a small AA battery from his upper part of the shirt. Only he knows why he was carrying it with him.
But that was not all. Security guards additionally heard some suspicious sounds, and were sure that some kind of device produced the noise. Not a single thing should be transferred over the gate to the prisoners! Of course, they did not find anything.
Only after Rima explained the guards it is his stomach rumbling, he was released further. The security guards do their work seriously, which can easily be understood is such a prison.
Christmas wishes from a prison
They returned home with hats, scarves, gloves and cloths for each member of the community. One carpet was placed in the chapel in front of the altar – for the memory of our brothers and sisters who got lost at some point of their lives and are now paying their price.
When we were opening mail and reading various Christmas greetings from friends of the community, to our surprise, Alma’s greeting was among them as well. Here’s what she wrote:
Be open, simple and warm in your hearts to one another. Share good, share a miracle of this night in the coming year as well. Thank you for visiting us to share your warm hearts and sincerity with us. Such meetings help us feel that we are also still needed for other people. To me and other prisoners this gives motivation for the future, makes life easier and helps us to become better.
I am sending greetings to Martinas and Deividas. Dear Rima, how wonderful you are! Thank you for visiting us, for hugging us and for talking with us.
God Bless you!
God loves every person
It is true that her past actions are wrongful and incomprehensible, but Alma is a proof that God loves and forgives everyone.
Today, Alma is among the most active in the prison, she leads a handicrafts group and helps co-prisoners not to lose hope and to realize the value of their lives. In prison, she met Rolandas and they even got married there.
Despite the fact that she will remain imprisoned by the end of her life, she lives on and tries to make some sense of her life in current circumstances.
Ark’s philosophy is based on being open to another and to testify. Jean Vanier, as I already wrote once, wants to show the world that people with intellectual disabilities do carry an important mission for this world.
Although society may often reject and push them aside, due to being afraid of diversity and because these persons are far from highly positioned on the society’s criteria, these very persons can reach directly to the hearts of people and address them in their essence. Therefore Ark rarely gets a visit invitation rejected.
And, of course, vice versa, a door to community remain open and allow the world to view a different reality.
In Lithuania, for example, work camps are organized each year for the young offenders. This is the time when tents get erected in front of the house on the lawn and when the youth takes care of the surrounding garden or just do everything what is required. At that time, the community is always full of life and energy, the volunteers have a great chance to do something good for other people.
Rimas, responsible for the community, said that the experience is usually very good, both for youth and persons with disability, although sometimes we experience some inconvenience as well. Last summer, someone from the camp has stolen three bikes unfortunately. They never got them back.
Donations for the Lithuanian community
When me and Silva stay longer in a certain community, Operando opens a donation account. Therefore by the end of January we will collect gifts for Ark community in Lithuania.
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Not only for the purchase of new bicycles, but also for the necessary repair works around the house and the installation of the tabernacle to the in-house chapel, which is very much anticipated by everybody. State of Lithuania namely does contribute its share, but only for people with intellectual disabilities. 20% of the funds needed for maintenance of the house and for paying the assistants must be provided by the community itself.
It would be nice if when leaving the community, we could hand over an envelope to Rimas, similar as we have done in Rome, Paris and Kiev.