Mary my Mother
The Road to Salvation
by Patricia Keane
Ben and his wife Brianna sat silently in court holding hands waiting for the judge to sentence his older brother Drew. Ben knew that on this occasion it wasn’t going to be a light sentence. It was Drew’s twenty-third conviction, and all eyes were on the Judge except Bens. He was looking in Drew’s direction hoping to make eye contact with his wayward brother, but Drew’s eyes were fixed on the judge who in the past had given him many chances to reform his life. He had been a wanted man across four American states. Drew had been warned that if he appeared before this judge again, he would throw away the key. The judge was delivering his sentence, and Ben and Brianna were holding their breaths. “I’m sentencing you to 30-years without parole” they heard the judge say. Drew would be fifty-eight on his release. His sentence would be served in one of the hardest prisons in the mid-west. Drew left the courtroom without looking at the brother who had narrowly escaped the horrors of their childhood. Both had been on the road to perdition, but at sixteen years of age, Ben had changed routes.
Ben was eight-years-old, and his brother Drew, two years older, experienced devastation when their father walked out on the family. Ben had a younger brother and an older sister. The family lived in trailers, and the people who lived in them were commonly referred to as “white trailer trash”, a name synonymous with white Americans that live below the breadline and never make it out of that social class. However, the family experienced a different lifestyle before the dad’s departure. Shortly afterwards Ben’s mother suffered a breakdown and was unable to care or provide for her children. At the time he left, they lived in a duplex house in the leafy suburbs of Indianapolis and the family enjoyed a middle-class upbringing. Ben’s mother received little financial support from her husband, and she was unable to maintain her mortgage repayments, and the bank repossessed their home. That’s when they moved to a trailer park. Ben’s mother turned into another person. She became angry, abusive and aggressive and would shout at her already traumatised children. They now endured constant penury, and most days the children were hungry. On other days there was neither milk nor bread available, and they solely depended on school meals for survival.
“That’s when my mother taught us how to steal – all four of us”, Ben explained to me as I sat with him and Brianna in a restaurant in Medjugorje. “My mother would drag Drew and me out of bed in the early hours of the morning to steal milk from the houses close-by after the milk delivery. ‘Take the paper too, if there’s one’ she would shout as we cycled away on our stolen bikes, ‘and anything else that you see’. We generally would arrive back with a newspaper, bread and milk as they were the daily collectables along with a packet of cigarettes which we stole from local shops. Then one day the washing machine broke down, and my mother didn’t have the money to repair it. The clothes built up on the floor for two weeks and then she had my brother, and I get through a house window, disconnect the elderly couple’s washing machine, open the door and shove the machine into the back of a borrowed van. I was constantly scared of being caught, but it was just another challenge for Drew. Then my brother began robbing for himself. He dropped out of school and anything my mother wanted he got it. He would steal a car, drive my mother to wherever she wanted to go, and he began travelling out of state with a gang that specialised in house clearance robberies. At twenty he served his first 3-month prison sentence. By the time he was twenty-three, the sentences had got longer, and as soon as he’d finish one six month stint, there was another one waiting for him.
When I turned sixteen, I realised I could get a job, and I told Drew he could make the same choice. I falsified my age and got a full-time job and gave most of my wages to my mother. Drew was now selling stolen goods and making a lot of money and cajoled me because of the puny money I was earning. My mother seemed to have adjusted to her new identity as white trailer trash. I was ashamed of where I lived and my family’s circumstances, and telling the truth about us was never an option for me.”
At twenty-one, Ben met Brianna. Her parents were cradle Catholics that frequently enjoyed the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Telling lies was not something they tolerated from their children. Ben fell in love with her, and her strong moral values attracted him. There was something different about Brianna, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He wanted to marry her, but he had told her too many lies in their first year together, and he needed to put that right. He hadn't been to Mass or confession since he received his first Communion in a stolen 3-piece suit. He began attending Sunday Mass with Brianna and would join her family for Sunday lunch where there was a prayer before meals, laughter and family time together. One day he decided to talk to a priest, and he confessed everything about his family and the new family he’d found. He received absolution, and on the advice of the priest, he was to pray until he felt the time was right to tell Brianna the true version of his life. Brianna’s first reaction was disbelief, but seeing how nervous he was, she knew he was telling the truth.
Ben had crossed the threshold from darkness to glory, and there would be no turning back if he wanted a future with Brianna. However, Drew was now on a collision course. His way was well paved on the road to perdition. He had enough experience to set up his house clearance team and drove from state to state staking out ‘new clients’. He was conducting his 42nd house robbery and had reversed the 40ft ‘removals truck’ into the driveway of a client’s property. His scout team had been watching the daily routine of the family for weeks and by 8 am each day there was no one at home. That morning the owner of the house called by his home to pick up something he had forgotten. The off-duty highway patrol officer casually walked up to Drew and remarked he didn’t know his neighbours were moving house. Drew explained they were moving out of state and that his company had been hired to move the house contents. The officer kept the team engaged in conversation while he waited for back-up. It would be the end of Drew’s illicit career for a long time.
“God made a way for me, and through His grace, I’ve remained on the straight and narrow path. My parents-in-law, Brianna and I went to Medjugorje to pray to Our Lady for Drew’s conversion and salvation.” “Never give up hoping or praying as God hears the prayer from a humble heart,” I said, imparting as much hope as I could to an inspiring couple who had travelled the road of redemption together.
The conscience, said an Argentinian singer-songwriter, is the subsidiary that God has in each one of us, and although we only know the testimony of Ben, we know that God also called Drew to make the change and would have given him "his own Brianna" that would have fortified the call of Drew´s conscience.
Praise be Jesus and Mary.
Patricia Keane is the author of the critically acclaimed book Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles and is an inspirational speaker and witness to her inner healing in Medjugorje. She hosts a weekly programme, Health and Faith Matters on Radio Maria and blogs at www.journeyoftenthousandsmiles.org. She submits a monthly article for the Medjugorje Messenger and a bimonthly to Shalom Tidings.
She received two International Awards for her humanitarian work with the ethnically displaced families of Bosnia-Herzegovina through her tireless work the charity Rebuild for Bosnia.