Pride, virtually each Jessup prisoner in our Tuesday group will tell you, is the reason they're on the wrong side of the razor-wire fence. They're locked up for beating their wives, using crack, dealing crack, armed robbery, auto theft - the list runs on.
Daily, they eat cold food, find themselves in minor fights with inmates, get shunned by guards, sleep 24 inches from a snorer, pick trash (gloveless) on roadsides, get mocked for their faith by radical Muslims and look for letters from loved ones that never come.
They are the luckiest men in the world.
Most will tell you that.
They are being humbled.
They know Jessup is precisely where God wants them.
"I'm like a choice piece of steak on a skillet in here," said one enormous inmate with a booming smile recently. "God's the chef and he keeps checking on that steak of his, saying: 'Nah, not quite ready yet.' He knows when I'm cooked to perfection. He knows when his steak's just right. He knows when I'm ready to face the world."
Every day at work I meet with bricklayers, builders, architects, laborers, truck drivers, contractors. And on Tuesday night when I meet with 20 or so of these inmates, I am reminded of their heightening, jaw-rattling wisdom.
Pride, they will tell you, was the root of their offense. They'll tell you pride had gotten into their bloodstream and they'd become an empire of self. Their rotten paradises - that seemed to have such high standing as they shucked and jived on the outside - doomed them. Pride was their killer.
Satan, I believe gets high off our pride - more than anything else.
Because he knows the cocky stridency of our dyed-in-the-wool humanity will eventually manhandle, degenerate and humilate us. He knows our pride can send us to hell.
That's why these guys are so lucky.
They're learning to be humble.
As St. Augustine once asked: "Do you wish to rise?"
"Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility."
These 20 prisoners who keep coming back for scripture, the Eucharist, fellowship and animated talks, know that humility will be the key to lead them back to proper oneness with Christ. They know it's in reversing their pride that they can, alas, begin to reverse the damage they've done to their wives, friends, former bosses, strangers.
Lucky, they'll tell you. Lucky.
They're scratching and clawing to get back to God.
And his graces are taking root. I see it. It's the coolest thing.