I’ve been in both a Federal Prison, and a Roman Catholic Seminary. Though my time in each were years apart, I couldn’t help but make comparisons. What I discovered was shocking.
Years ago, I felt like I had the calling to become a Roman Catholic Priest. After weeks of counseling, I finally made the decision to enter the seminary. I entered Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, LA.
I must clarify something. This is not Notre Dame University, Home of the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame Seminary is a different institution entirely.
Attneding Notre Dame Seminary was my choice. My vocational director, the priest in my diocese who guided me, tried to discourage this, but he left the final decision up to me.
Things didn’t work out in the seminary. I returned home, resumed my life and my profession, and built a successful business. A few years later, I made a big mistake. I took on a business partner. Five years later, he committed a Federal crime. He took funds from a trust account that were to be used to pay Federal taxes. I discovered the theft, and then made another mistake. I told him, “Pay it back immediately, or I’ll turn your butt in to the Feds!” To make a long story short, his big mouth got him caught, and we were indicted. He got three years for taking the money. I got eight months because I was his partner, and didn’t turn him in. I went to Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola, FL.
Federal Prison and Seminary were very different
When I arrived at Pensacola, I knew that the first thing I would do was compare it to the seminary. This was the second time I had lived in this kind of environment, which is, a community of men. There were many differences between the two. There were also very few similarities. The main difference was, in the seminary, I could come and go as I pleased. At the prison, naturally, I couldn’t do this. But you’ll be surprised when I tell you that this was the only thing I liked better about Notre Dame Seminary.
Federal Prison Camp
When first arriving at the prison camp, I knew in less than a minute that this was not going to be a bad experience. For starters, I was NOT escorted there by Federal officers. I was told the date and time to report, on my own. When I checked in at the main lobby, an officer came to greet me and said, “Hello Son, we’ve been expecting you.” I thought I was doomed, and that he was going to escort me to the back with a billy club sticking in my back. This did not happen. He just said, “Follow me.” As I followed him, he actually had his back to me. I asked myself, “If I’m in a prison, I don’t see it.” Then, he did a strip search. This was the only bad memory I could have had, if you’d call it a bad memory, but he was just doing his job. He even shot the bull with me, and asked me why I was there. Then he said, “If you only got eight months, everyone would have been better off if the judge had let you serve it at home. It’ll take eight months just to process your paperwork. Don’t worry. You’ll be out of here before you know it.”
For the first two weeks, the guards were not very friendly. They were not exactly hateful, but if one wanted me to do something, he would say, “Hey you, Do this!” After two weeks, this all changed. The guards seemed like they had gotten to know me, and realized I was not going to be a rebellious, trouble making inmate. They began to laugh, joke and cut up with me. I realized that they probably have to do this in order to screen the inmates.
For the remaining time, life was a breeze. I worked in the kitchen, which I specifically asked for. I discovered that, as long as I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, my life there would be easy. I was never locked up. We lived in dorms. To this day, I’ve never been in handcuffs. I’ve never been arrested. If I was off from work, or if I didn’t have to be somewhere for count, I could go anywhere on the compound I wanted to go, and do my own thing without anyone questioning everything I did. I just couldn’t leave the camp. I took some courses, pursued some additional skills, worked out every day, and finally left there in the best shape of my life. I never had a guard with me. The only times I saw a guard was during counts, and, when they’d laugh and cut up with me.
My two biggest fears were that people there (inmates and guards) would be constantly messing with me, and, that some queer would come on to me. These things did not happen. People didn’t mess with me. They joked with me, and I joked back, and we had a ball. I never had a queer come on to me. In fact, the inmates there hated queers. There was one queer there who got in everyone’s business, but he was the laughing stock of the entire institution.
I was never in the Army or the Military, and I regretted it. However, Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola, FL is on a naval base, and is run just like a Military facility. Therefore, the discipline I missed by not being in the Army is something I gained from this experience.
On the day I was released, my wife, mother and two sisters came to pick me up. Some of the guards I had actually become good friends with were in the parking lot to greet them. When we left, these guys were in tears.
I don’t have any bad memories of the Federal Prison Camp, other than, just the very thought that I was in a prison. I knew that if I got into any trouble, they would ship me to a higher security prison, which is called, behind the fence. This kind of messed with my mind, but other than that, I didn’t mind it at all. But I don’t want to go back. I have things to accomplish, and Federal Prison will disrupt your life.
Notre Dame Seminary
When I think of Notre Dame Seminary, I have nightmares. I was there for one school year (nine months). At the time, the rector was the former Archbishop of Miami, John C. Favalora. I was not from New Orleans. Favalora and the rest of the community knew it. They made my life a living hell for nine months.
The seminary was more like a prison than the prison. People there, both seminarians and staff, were watching every move I made. Even when I took a shit, someone asked, “Why were you in there so long?” Living in this place was like living in a Nazi Concentration Camp, without the physical abuse. But the mental abuse was just as bad.
Guys in the seminary are constantly evaluated. I was never evaluated in the Federal Prison Camp. I was constantly questioned and criticized, by everyone there, on how I was doing something. When I asked several times, “What am I supposed to do?”, the answer I always got was, “I can’t tell you. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” In other words, they were messing with my mind.
Queers were my main fear in the prison, but at Notre Dame, I believe 80 percent of the community was queer. I learned two things about queers during my sentence there (and YES, I do consider it a sentence). First, if they know you’re not queer, they won’t give you the time of day. Second, if one comes on to you, and you turn him down, he decides he is your enemy. That’s some kind of attitude for people who are training to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. And I did make some enemies there, because several tried to come on to me.
I was there only about two weeks when I realized they didn’t’ want me there. About two weeks before the school year ended, Favalora called me into his office. He said, “We’ve evaluated you, and we feel, out of love, that you should take some time off. You have a few issues that would prevent your getting the most out of your study of Theology, and your training for the priesthood. But I want you to finish the school year, because you could be returning to a seminary in the future.”
A Seminary probably meant to him that I wouldn’t be returning to Notre Dame, because he acted as if he never wanted to see my ass again. When he said this, I said, “With pleasure”. Then I left his office, and never spoke another word to that SOB.
I suppose Federal prison could have been worse, but I was in what is called a minimum security prison. This means, they trust you, unless you give them a reason why they can’t. This is the place for white collar criminals and drug dealers. It’s also the place for inmates from more secure prisons, who have earned the right to serve the last part of their sentence in a better place. To them, this is the last step before going home, so you know they’re not trouble makers. You won’t find murderers, armed robbers, sex offenders and rapists there. But as far as where I was, this was nothing like you see on TV.
As far as seminaries are concerned, there are other seminaries in the U S that have seminarians from all over the country. There’s no problem with someone invading their territory. In fact, I did spend two more years in another Catholic Seminary, in St. Meinrad, Indiana. It was nothing like Notre Dame Seminary. However, after two more years, I decided priesthood was not for me. All I have from St. Meinrad is happy memories. I visit there occasionally, and am always extended the very best hospitality. This seminary is run by the Benedictines. Their philosophy is, treat a visitor like a guest for three days, and the fourth day, put him to work. At St. Meinrad, they bake their own bread, make their own wine, and do everything like the good old days. I could live with that. Furthermore, they are the most pleasant and fun loving people you’d ever want to meet. They are certainly different from those bastards at Notre Dame Seminary.