“The Prison Angel” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Mary Jordan & Kevin Sullivan is subtitled: “Mother Antonia’s Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail”.
Mother Antonia Brenner recently passed away in Tijuana, Mexico ....
At the age of 50, Mary Clark left her comfortable world in suburban Los Angeles to dedicate her life to caring for the poorest of the poor ~~ the inmates in one of Mexico’s most notorious jails.
Carrying little more than a Spanish dictionary, she moved into a cell to live among prisoners who ranged from petty thieves to some of the most powerful drug lords in Mexican history.
For over 30 years, she lived in that Tijuana cell and the unstoppable force of her good work has become legendary.
Mother Teresa met with her, Pope John Paul II blessed her, presidents in the United States and Mexico have praised her work.
She founded a religious community of nuns called The Servants of the Eleventh Hour who are dedicated to giving older women ~~ many of whom are widowed or divorced ~~ a way to bring new meaning to their lives.
Mother Antonia was born Mary Clark and was raised in a wealthy Beverly Hills family surrounded by the glamorous movie stars of 1930s Hollywood.
A beautiful blonde with star power herself, she was offerd a job by the choreographer, Busby Berkeley. But, Mary’s dream was to be a happy wife and mother. She first married in her teens and raised seven children. However, her two marriages both eventually ended in divorce.
In the mid-1950s, she began devoting more and more of her time to charity work, finding herself energized by helping the poor.
One day, on a trip across the Mexican border, she visited La Mesa prison in Tijuana and experienced an intense feeling that she had found her true life’s work.
Determined to devote herself from then on to a life of service, and undeterred by Church rules banning older or divorced women from joining religious congregations, she donned a nun’s habit that she had sewn herself and became Mother Antonia. Church officials soon blessed her unorthodox mission.
Alternately described as "a hustler," "a refreshing Coca-Cola in the desert" and "an oasis of purity," this intriguing Californian believes in the goodness of all people.
Vicious murderers, deplorable dealers, society's drifters ~~ Mother Antonia ministers to all of them, brings them donated blankets, and even convinces dentists to fix their rotting teeth and plastic surgeons to remove their gang tattoos.
From her home in a small, cold cell, she has profoundly affected the lives of thousands of people ~~ not only prisoners and guards, but many well-to-do Californians whose lives she has enriched by drawing them into her everwidening work.
This book is a work of journalism, not an "as told to" story.
Mother Antonia is the first to say she isn't perfect.
She has struggled with real life problems; she has known the highs of marrying for love and the lows of divorce when that love died. Suffering from poor health for a lifetime, she has ignored her ailments.
In preparing this book, the authors conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Mother Antonia. They gave her a tape recorder and tapes and asked her to tell the stories of her life. They have sat with her in the prison and in her small house nearby which was filled with an eclectic mix of women: inmates just leaving the prison; women receiving cancer treatments; and mothers, daughters, and girlfriends who have come long distances to visit men in prison and have no money to stay anywhere else.
They have also talked about Mother Antonia with her friends, family, bishops, inmates, guards, wardens, police chiefs, DEA agents, Army generals, and even Benjamín Arellano Félix, one of Mexico's most notorious drug traffickers.
In all possible instances, the authors checked and double-checked their stories with witnesses, public records, old newspaper clippings from the Library of Congress, and even in an eye-opening interview with an ultrasecret DEA informant. They were amazed at the accuracy of Mother Antonia's memories, even those from a half-century ago.
In the end, this is the story of a woman who followed a dream later in life.
“The Prison Angel” is a very wonderful read!!
It is one of those books which will make the reader smile but will also bring a tear to the eye just knowing that people like her still exist on this earth.
I read this book in a day because I could not put it down. There are so many on-the-edge-of-your-seat stories that it captures the reader.
Mother Antonia was a gift and a blessing to everyone who reads her story.