My word

Aren’t there some decent people about?

Mother Antonia Brenner, who has died aged 86, was a twice-divorced former Hollywood socialite and mother of seven who, in 1977, gave away most of her possessions, put on a homemade nun’s habit and went to live in a Mexican prison.

At first the Roman Catholic Church declined to give her its support; indeed for many years, as a divorcée she had been unable to take Holy Communion. Nothing daunted, she left her home in Ventura, California, packed in her job, made her vows in private and moved into a bunk in the women’s wing of La Mesa Tijuana, a prison housing 7,500 male and 500 female prisoners, later moving to her own 10-by-10-ft concrete cell.

La Mesa was a notorious hellhole where rich drug lords ruled the roost while hundreds of their poorer brethren lived in the cold and squalor amid rats and raw sewage, with no beds, food or even lavatory paper unless their relatives brought supplies. Brutalised prison guards contributed to the misery, mistreating the mentally ill and administering cruel interrogations.

Over the next 30 years “Madre Antonia”, as she came to be known, transformed the atmosphere. Armed with a Bible, a Spanish dictionary and her own unassailable moral authority, she waded into riots and gun battles; shamed prison authorities into improving conditions and brought human rights violations to the attention of newspapers.

Or no longer about, as the case may be.

10 thoughts on “My word”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Or no longer about, as the case may be.

    We are all better off for having some Christians around. It is a pity that they are all in terminal decline. The world they leave behind will be more brutal in many ways.

  2. Don’t we normally complain about pushy rich older women trying to impose their Victorian moral values on the rest of society? (smoking ban, porn ban, etc.)

  3. Don’t we normally complain about pushy rich older women trying to impose their Victorian moral values on the rest of society?

    If there’s one thing I hate it’s rich old Victorian moralists trying to stop me from rioting and shooting people.

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    Edward Lud – “Presumably she got plenty of feelgoods out of it, like a plumber being paid for his plumbing.”

    WTF?

    Andrew M – “Don’t we normally complain about pushy rich older women trying to impose their Victorian moral values on the rest of society? (smoking ban, porn ban, etc.)”

    Maybe there is a Laffer curve for Victorian values? We like it when they do things like reform prisons and build the British library. But over time they start to run out of worthy causes and about half way through banning cruelty to animals, (or trying to prevent child prostitution, although some people around here may disagree), they reach Peak Victorian Prude and then it is all down hill from there.

  5. I think it is appalling that she was able to gain access to potentially vulnerable prisoners without the formal authorisation and training from the state! Without an approved certificate and background checks, she could have done untold harm! The Mexican government should intervene to ensure only approved, state employees are allowed to carry out such works.

  6. SMFS, do you suppose she felt unrewarded for her efforts?

    In another context, you were at pains to point out that Afghan interpreters working for British forces in Afghanistan had been paid for their work, knew the risks and we’re entitled to no right of settlement here. Putting aside the right of settlement issue, I’m not sure I see the difference.

    Im not disputing that this lady’s work was valuable, I’m merely pointing out that to someone of her mindset she was in all likelihood amply rewarded for it.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “I think it is appalling that she was able to gain access to potentially vulnerable prisoners without the formal authorisation and training from the state!”

    As a former Hollywood starlet, I doubt she would have passed the necessary checks.

    Edward Lud – “do you suppose she felt unrewarded for her efforts?”

    Well yes. Obviously. It may be true that she felt there might have been a future reward, but I doubt she found living in a concrete cell rewarding. But she may have done so . Also she may have found it an incredible burden. Who knows?

    “In another context, you were at pains to point out that Afghan interpreters working for British forces in Afghanistan had been paid for their work, knew the risks and we’re entitled to no right of settlement here. Putting aside the right of settlement issue, I’m not sure I see the difference.”

    Well she wasn’t paid for one thing. She gave up a lot for another. She was helping people who really needed help – and basically sacrificed her life to do so. How is that remotely like those interpreters?

    “Im not disputing that this lady’s work was valuable, I’m merely pointing out that to someone of her mindset she was in all likelihood amply rewarded for it.”

    She may have lived in expectation of a Heavenly Reward. Good for her. But she did not get much in her life and what she was, perhaps, hoping for was not a material reward. I know it is easy to be cynical about the religious, but in this case I fail to see how anyone can. She gave up the world to make this small corner of it a much nicer place. If only one in a million people could claim likewise.

  8. SMFS, the point is that you and our gracious host are characterising her behaviour as selfless, and therefore good.( I struggle with that proposition, but let’s leave that to one side. )

    What I’m getting at is, her behaviour almost certainly was not selfless. She almost certainly derived immense satisfaction from her calling (and from the fact that she earned nothing from it)

    So how is she morally different from a plumber who earns money rather than feelgoods?

  9. I happen to have a lot of respect for that 0.00001% of self-defined Christians who actually live the gospel Jesus gave them. Selling everything they have and giving to the poor, devoting themselves completely to the less fortunate, that kind of thing. Those who will pass through the eye of the needle.

    Very unlike the Christians here, who when previously asked why they didn’t do the same have responded that, well, in a very real sense, uh, well, that was meant allegorically. Shame that those same Christians then claim the few selfless Christian people as their own, and as some kind of indirect proof that God etcetera. Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrites as well.

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