Happy Birthday to the Great Pornchai Moontri! When I published this post, it was his birthday. Now he’s already working on his next year. By the way, I’m told that his first name is pronouned something like “Punch-eye”, but maybe putting the hyphen after “Pun”.
This post now makes a dozen posts in which Pornchai has been mentioned or been the very subject of the post. Yet, it’s been a little while since I’ve put anything up about him. Those who don’t know Pornchai already will surely be inspired by reading the following articles. I only include a few here, since some of these articles have many other links for you to follow. You have to know that Pornchai is a bit of a hero of mine. His saga in coming to know the friendship of Jesus is entirely awesome. He has all my respect:
(1) My name is Pornchai Moontri, and I am prisoner #38284 [That's been changed to 77948] in the New Hampshire State Prison. I come to the Catholic faith after a painful journey in darkness that my friend, Father Gordon MacRae, has asked me to write candidly. This is not something I do easily, but I trust my friend.
I was born in Bua Nong Lamphu, a small village in the north of Thailand near Khon Kaen on September 10, 1973. At the age of two, I was abandoned by my mother to be sold. A distant teenaged relative rescued me. He walked many miles to carry me away to his family farm where I worked throughout my childhood raising water buffalo, rice, and sugar cane. I never attended school, however, and never learned to read and write in Thai. Though my childhood involved hard work, I was safe and happy.
When I was 11 years old, my mother re-emerged in Thailand with a new husband – an American air traffic controller from Bangor, Maine. I was taken from Thailand by them against my will, and brought to the United States. This transition was a trauma to be endured. A month after my arrival in Bangor, my new stepfather’s motive for importing a ready-made Thai family became clear. I was forcibly raped by him at age 11, an event that was to be repeated with regularity over the next three years. I was a prisoner in his house, and resistance was only met with violence against me and against my mother. I was all of 100 pounds. I cannot describe this further. Welcome to America!
Being one of only three Asians in 1985 Bangor, and speaking little English, I did not readily comprehend my new names. “Gook,” “V.C.” and “Charlie” meant nothing to me, but I could sense the scorn with which such names were delivered. Because my English was poor, I was treated as though I was stupid. Part of my humiliation was that I had to get a paper route at age 12, and my earnings were taken from me to pay for the “privilege” of living in my captor’s house. Stephen King’s home was on my paper route. Mr. King once gave me a Christmas bonus of 25¢ for delivering his newspaper all year. The horror stories he wrote about Maine are all true. Remember the one with the evil clown? It’s true.
When I was 14, my English was better. I was a little bigger, and a lot stronger – and nothing but angry. Anger was all I had. So with it I fled that house and became a homeless teenager in and around Bangor. One day the Bangor police actually picked me up and forced me to go “home.” I would rather have gone to one of the ones Stephen King wrote about. I just fled again and again, and ended up at the Good Will Hinckley School for people like me. I was there for a year and got kicked out for fighting. I was always fighting. I fought everyone.
Back on the streets of Bangor, I began to carry a knife. At 17 and 18, a lot of people were after me. I lived under a bridge for a while and sometimes my mother would bring me things. I tried to climb out of the deep hole I was in by signing up for night classes at age 18 to finish my high school diploma. I was kicked out of Bangor High School for punching the principal.
One night, at age 18, something that lived in me got out. I got very drunk with friends, and we walked into a Bangor Shop & Save supermarket to buy cigarettes. I barely remember this. In my drunken state, I opened a bottle of beer from a case and started to drink it. The manager confronted me and ordered me to leave. I tried to flee the store, but the manager and other employees tried to keep me there. I tried to fight them off to flee. When I got outside, a manager from another Shop & Save had witnessed the incident and pounced on me. I was 130 pounds and was pinned to the ground by this 190-pound man. I think something snapped in my mind. IT was happening again. I fought, but his dead weight was suffocating me. The newspapers would later tell a different story, but this was the truth, and it is all I remember.
In jail that night, I was questioned for three hours. I was told that I had stabbed a man and was charged with attempted murder. I have no memory, to this day, of stabbing the man. The next morning, I awoke in a jail cell and was told that I was charged with Class A murder. The man had died during the night. I was told that I blew a .25 on the Breathalyzer, but the result was so high it was discarded as an error.
My stepfather could have hired expert counsel, but it was clearly not in his best interest that my life be evaluated so I was left in the care of a public defender who wanted this high profile murder off his desk.
(2) I was a teenager when I went to prison. Over the years, I was sent back to solitary confinement over and over, for up to three-and-a-half years at a time, because I was so hostile. The longer I was there each time, the more inhuman I felt and became. Living for years on end in solitary confinement joined with the guilt I felt for the life I took during a struggle when I was 18 years old. So I just gave up on myself as a human being. I sank to the very bottom of the prison I was in, and stayed there.
(3) Over the next few years, G [Father Gordon MacRae] and I discussed a lot about the life of Saint Maximilian Kolbe and about Saint Padre Pio. I drifted like an iceberg that was ever so slowly melting, and before I realized it, I was caught up in what happened to Saint Maximilian. I never had a hero, and he became one. I suddenly felt as though I was no longer just adrift at sea; the ice was all gone. Four years after my arrival in this new prison, on the day before Divine Mercy Sunday in 2010, G and I walked to the Prison Chapel where Fr. Anthony Kuzia, a nearby priest, Baptized and Confirmed me.
The next morning, Divine Mercy Sunday, I received my First Eucharist. I stepped that day out of the Dark Wood of Error into the light of day – the light of Christ. If anyone had told me of this just five years earlier, I would have thought them insane. Every demon that once controlled my life was expelled, and I was free.
(4) I dream of having an opportunity to reach those who are lost like I was, and broken, and brokenhearted, and lead them to Christ. I dream that I will be able to help young people who have had all trust broken and taken away from them. I dream that I will be able to live my life in freedom and in service to others. I dream that I will have the chance to honor someone who sought only my good despite his own captivity. I dream that I will live this life as a Catholic. I dream that I will be led to where I am supposed to go and that I will not be all alone when I get there. What used to be just a nightmare is now my dream.
- Did I mention that Pornchai has a knack for working with his fellow prisoners, defusing tense situations?
- Did I mention that he is a superb mathematician?
- Did I mention that he can write suberbly, candidly?
- Did I mention that is an accomplished craftsman, a shipbuilder?
- Did I mention that he crafted this box in which I keep the the Holy Oils?
- Did I mention that he created a pen-set for me just now? It reminds us of how the Living Word of God is written upon our hearts by our Heavenly Father. Here it is:
I’d like to share his letter as we take a tour of this unique writing center.
Pornchai’s address, should any of you take a fancy to writing to him, is this (and write it out exactly as is):
P.O. Box 14 — #77948
Concord, N.H. 03302-0014 (U.S.A.)
And… and… Follow the rules or it will never reach it’s destination:
- Use of tape and/or stickers (including religious stickers) is forbidden and will result in rejected mail.
- Each envelope is limited to ten physical pages. Double-sided printing is OK.
- Printed articles from the Internet are allowed (within the ten page limit) but newspaper/magazine clippings enclosed with letters are prohibited.
- Unused postage stamps and unused writing materials are prohibited.
- Checks to prisoners must include the prisoner’s full name and number (No. 67546), and the sender’s full name and address on both the check and the envelope. Abbreviated names (e.g. “J. Smith”) are not permitted.
Pornchai begins his letter in this way:
Peace be with you. This is Pornchai and I want to thank you for the very nice post you wrote about the keepsake box I made for you. The pictures of it were very nice and I was happy that you are using the box to store the sacred oils. This made me very proud.
I have been trying another kind of woodworking called wood turning. Using a lathe, I have turned some beautiful woods into a set of pens, and I am sending this set to you as a gift for you and Holy Souls Hermitage. The barrels of the pens are made from olivewood imported from Bethlehem. I am able to special order it, and it is very nice to work with. It has become my favorite wood for wood turning. The Jonah and Cross clips and the bands on the two pens are cast from 24-carat gold. The display box is maple and rosewood, and can be folded open to stand the pens on your desk.
I placed a plastic pen from the Pontifical College Josephinum next to Pornchai’s creation, to give you a bit of perspective on various levels:
I have to say that I thought I was one to know something about the Fish and the Cross symbols in early Christianity. You can review my somewhat rambunctious views in this Holy Souls Hermitage Special (one of my favorite posts, if I do say so myself). However, it is from Pornchai that I hear for the first time that the fish is called “The Jonah”. We call to mind that Jesus said of himself that there will be no other sign given to this generation (in which we still live) other than the sign of Jonah. Jesus fulfilled that sign by being crucified, and then being buried in the belly of the earth for three days. Thus, the catechetical set of pens, one with the fish, one with the cross. Thanks for that, Pornchai! Did I mention that he is a disciple of Saint Maximilian Kolbe?
A little pressure at the band and the pen will pull apart to replace the Cross pen refill if you need to.
Indeed. I’d just like to point out the absolute precision that goes into such a detail. Look inside of the top of the barrel of the pen. It’s lined with metal to receive the bottom half. This is nanoprecision. I know a machinist who’s CAD program permits him an exactitude of about 1/10,000′s of an inch. This is better. And note how very, very thin the wood is. Yikes!
Pornchai says that this is olive wood from Bethlehem, and I believe him. However, I think you’ll agree with me that this almost transparent wood has all the appearance of a golden marble.
Everything fits together most precisely…
Sorry for the blurry shot here. What I wanted to point out is the matching, continuous grain on both sides of the pen. Not easy to do. If you make a mistake on one side or the other, you have to start all over again. Nothing blurry about Pornchai’s work.
A good shot of the maple and rosewood (top inside cover)…
And there we are. But it will stay open on the desk!
I have sent a few of these pens and boxes to a furniture store in New Hampshire that sells our creations for us. I am sending you one of their brochures. I can make these for others who want them as well.
I was happy to note in that brochure that the prisoners also build toys for Toys for Tots, which is a USMC sponsored program. SEMPER FI! Those up near Concord, NH (Franklin) can go to Grevoir Furniture to see what’s available. They have a website for directions and contacts.
It’s coming up to Christmas time. You won’t regret writing to the Great Pornchai about this.
I want to thank you for all the prayers and Masses you have offered for me and my friend, Father G, and for all the support you have given to These Stone Walls. It is strange that a website could change the life of a prisoner, but just by living in the same prison cell as Father G, I have been exposed to a world of true believers that I did not know existed. My whole life and outlook has changed thanks to the readers of These Stone Walls who have touched my heart. I see things very differently now, and I am very happy to count you as a friend. God bless you, Father.
Your brother in Christ,
I’m very honored to be Pornchai’s friend.
Now, just to say: Pornchai knows I like to write. And I confess I do write with the help of a computer keyboard for big projects, but once in a while I have to sign my name to this or that document, to this or that letter, to this or that oath of fidelity, or, please God, in the future, to this or that contract with a publisher. That’s what I would like to reserve the use of the pens for, besides their being a catechetical conversation starter for any seminarians or priests or bishops who visit the hermitage. I’ll also be able to use that to tell them about another of Pornchai’s friends, Father Gordon MacRae (about), whom Pornchai mentioned in his letter. If you don’t know about http://www.thesestonewalls.com go there and check it out. Click!