Interview with Joe Lawless

  • Normal
  • Large video
  • Large content
  • Full video
"rtmpconf":{ type:"flv", file:"rtmp://", baseUrl:wgScriptPath + "/extensions/player/", streamServer:'', width:"480", height:"360", config:{ showBrowserControls:false }, poster:"/index.php?action=ajax%26rs=importImage%26rsargs[]=%26rsargs[]=480", controls:{ _timerStyle:"sides" } }
Table of Contents 
  •  Discussion of racism in jails 
  •  Discussion of corruption in jails 
  •  "Repression of Truth" 
  •  Forgiveness 
  •  Photographs and memories

  •  Watch Video 1of "Interview with Father Joe Lawless." 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: —the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall. And it was quite an experience. They had— they had a dormitory there for girls who had killed— had a dormitory for boys who had killed. And I saw— that was my first exposure to racism. 
  •  LAWLESS: How they were treated if they were Hispanic or Black, worse than if they had been white. And I saw that at the juvenile hall level. And then when I got exposed to the police culture here— the jail culture here in Corpus Christi, I saw evidence where girls were harassed by the guards. 
  •  LAWLESS: And where the population was so largely Black and Hispanic. And they were treated— they were treated— if the guards represented a culture where they were mostly white, they're— they had bad treatments for the Blacks. I saw that. And the Hispanics. So I've been exposed to that. I see that. 
  •  LAWLESS: And as a priest, it's very sad when young girl comes to you in confession and tells you that she was sexually abused or beaten up or harassed. You got to be careful because you can't— those things out of confession. But I did. I reported them. I said, some gal— what I would do is if a girl came to me in confession, I wouldn't make the statement she came to me in confession. 
  •  LAWLESS: I'd just say she came to me on the outside. But she would come into confession— ‘course she figured she was safe there. And she was afraid that my comments would get back to her parents. It was very frustrating when a girl would be sexually abused by her father or her brother. 
  •  LAWLESS: Or what used to get me, and it still does, is when a girl is sexually abused by her single mom's boyfriend. You see a lot of that. And I saw evidence of that in juvenile hall, and I saw evidence of that here in the jail. I'd go to the people, the superiors, and report those things. But nothing is ever done. And so I see that— I saw evidence of racism in jail ministry. 
  •  LAWLESS: And now we have overcrowding, the terrible overcrowding. I saw the— the bad hygienic environment in the jails while I was there. Repairs that took a long while to get repaired. And the culture of the people there in jail. The people in jail— they're the biggest con artists in the world. 
  •  RAYMOND: The people who are inmates? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: —incarcerated. Yeah. And we used to have masses every— our services were masses every Saturday morning. [Inaudible] And many of the people who would come to mass were just coming because it was another activity to go to. 
  •  LAWLESS: And it used to be sad sometimes when you'd see people who were gay— they would be coming to mass, and they would be making overtures toward each other while you were having mass. I don't have anything against gays, but it was very characteristic of what was happening there while you're having services. 
  •  LAWLESS: You would have those things happening while you're having services. And I saw evidence of that— the attitude of the guards. 
  •  RAYMOND: What was their attitude? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: The attitude was that you could see that a lot of them didn't like their work because they had a high turnover. And if they were racist, well, that was an outlet for them. The environment was there for them to express that racism that they had. If they were white they attitudes towards the Blacks and Hispanics. 
  •  LAWLESS: And I saw you know the gang activities in jail, which is very frustrating. They have such power. The effects they have when they get out. And the effects they have while they're in. I saw that. I saw how we have people who are killed, because the jails are a very powerful lobby. And I assumed that while I was here in the jail ministry, it was a ministry of the church, of our parish. 
  •  LAWLESS: And I enjoyed it very much. I liked every bit of it. It was very frustrating though because they were only here for a short time. While they're here in Corpus Christi, they're only here for a short time. It's a holding environment. And sometimes you felt like you were— that they're working against you— trying to help out the guards, by the administration. 
  •  RAYMOND: Who was working against you? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm trying to think who the chief was then. 
  •  RAYMOND: Oh, but administration— 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: —used to feel the guards were working against you rather than cooperating with you. And we used to have religious— nuns used to come in with us. I can tell you stories about them. But that was a jail ministry. 
  •  LAWLESS: It was just that— And it used to be sad to see somebody come in for the first time they were there. They were a person who had a very clean lifestyle and all of a sudden they had a D.W.I., which is so easy to— anybody can be a victim of a D.W.I. And you'd see a person, a young girl or young man come who had a D.W.I. the night before and he'd be in a state of horror. 
  •  LAWLESS: My God, look what happened to me. And then how— how they try to use you. They come to confession, not to come to confession but to ask favors of you. In other words, a means of communication. But you felt many times that you were reaching them too. There was a class of guards— people incarcerated that you did reach. The majority you don't because they're in for drugs. 
  •  LAWLESS: They used to have ways of putting— people had way of putting little objects in bags and throwing them up at the windows. They'd get them in the windows and bring them in. I remember them, the administration, telling me one of the tactics they use in jail is to get greeting cards and they put the drugs between the greeting card covers and then send them that way. 
  •  LAWLESS: And of course, they're taken care of before they get to the people. But the ways— it's a sad culture that— it's a culture of trying to survive. And they're geniuses at improvising and doing things like that. A cook in their meal— they manage to get steaks and hamburgers and cook them on top of steel tables by lighting fires underneath with cigarette lighters. 
  •  LAWLESS: Little things like that. The things they can do, and did do. But I used to wonder about the girls. What really would happen to a lot of them. And it's still happening in the jails today. 
  •  RAYMOND: Is this prison ministry continuing through Sacred Heart or—? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: No, what happened was— and that's why I got out of it. It was a ministry of our church, part of our church, within the boundaries. And what happened—the Diocese took it over and it became a bureaucracy. And I don't like bureaucracies. I've seen too much of it in the military and in the church. So I pulled out of it when it became a bureaucracy. 
  •  RAYMOND: I wonder if you could tell me— I want to ask you a little bit more about that. But you said that there were nuns also. What order was that? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: There's an order in Corpus Christi, the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, I.W.B.S. And while I was in the jail ministry, one of their nuns, a very lovely lady— she was also one of our ministers. And I remember how everybody had to be searched going in, and she was never searched, which was an honor for her. 
  •  LAWLESS: And she used to sit down and she used to get into the young boys and she'd chew them out. It was just— it was so funny to hear them. She would say things that if a male said it to them, they would be attacked by this person. But they say— she'd say things like, "The only reason you're here young man is because you're a sinner. 
  •  LAWLESS: Look at all the sins you've committed, and all the things you did. And God doesn't like." Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And they'd sit there and respect. You'd wonder what reaction they were gonna have. But these young men, they sit, especially if they're Hispanic— especially if they're Hispanic. 
  •  LAWLESS: They'd sit there like their attitude was Yes, Mom. And they'd just sit there. And they were big enough to break her in two. And I remember she was sort of that way in the convent. She used to get on the other cases of all the other nuns. She was sort of an irritant to the other sisters. And she was that way. 
  •  LAWLESS: And I remember when we used to pick her up in the morning and you could see the nun who was opening the door for her to leave, she'd have a sigh of relief. Oh, she's gonna be gone for a couple of hours. And then she'd come back and see this painful expression she'd— now she's back again. But I can't even remember her name. But she's deceased now. But the sisters were involved in the ministry. 
  •  RAYMOND: Are they still? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Not that I know of. Oh, yeah, I beg your pardon. They are up in Beeville, the prison system in Beeville. We have them up there. 
  •  RAYMOND: You mention the bureaucracy of the Diocese. Could you talk a little bit about the Diocese of Corpus Christi? You're not in that line, you report to your order, is that right? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah, but I'm still in line. I actually have two superiors, which is the Diocesan priest— he's the subject of the Bishop— and as a religious priest, I am also subject of the Bishop, but also to my superior. Like my superior can call me tonight, say "Joe, I want you to leave there in two weeks." So I'm to two bosses. And, the church, because of its structure, it has to be a bureaucracy. 
  •  LAWLESS: They can't deny themselves that. They can't separate themselves from that. But sometimes— I saw a bureaucracy in the Army. I saw how it was abused and distorted. That's my first feeling about repression of truth. I just see— you see a bureaucracy of the church. And it's just part of the structure. 
  •  RAYMOND: What are—? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Go ahead. If you have any question— 
  •  RAYMOND: No. No. No. Go ahead. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm trying to think how— 
  •  RAYMOND: You've mentioned suppression and repression of the truth several times. And you gave one example in New Braunfels. What other examples— you talk about it with such passion, I know there must be other examples that you're thinking of. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm trying to think. Repression of truth. You see so much of it. You see it in society, so much of it. Don't tell me this isn't happening. It is. 
  •  RAYMOND: Maybe I could go back to another subject that you had talked about before— 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: [inaudible] I'm trying to be a help. 
  •  RAYMOND: You are. You are. But you had talked about Dachau, and of course, now, a lot of people, or some people deny that these places even— 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Right. That's something that I'd like to say something about. It bothers me very much when you see these people who are— what's the word they use, the ones that deny it happened? They have a title. The ones that deny that it ever happened. Residuous. Revision— 
  •  RAYMOND: Revisionist. Holocaust revisionist. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: No, the ones who deny that the Holocaust exists. I'm terrible— 
  •  RAYMOND: Oh, deniers. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: —anyway. It's a strong movement worldwide. They claim that the Holocaust never existed. What they do say is that it was staged. Staged. So one day I was assigned to a parish here in Corpus Christi to take the place of a pastor who was gonna be gone three weeks. 
  •  LAWLESS: I had never been there before. And what I do when I go to a parish for the first time— I map it out and I get there early ‘cause I'm an early riser. And I got to this parish, and they had a little Mexican diner next to it. And I got there before the church opened. So I went in there to have a coffee. And while I'm having my coffee I heard these two young ladies walk in. And they started talking. 
  •  LAWLESS: I was in hearing range of what they were saying. And one of the girls said, "Well," she said, "I'm bothered about this attitude toward the Holocaust. My Mom and Dad told me that it never happened. It never happened. They're making a big thing over it, that it was really staged." And the other girl went along with a grin with her and everything and so forth. 
  •  LAWLESS: So I remember they talked like that and I was angry. I was getting angry. But I didn't say anything. I didn't want to make an issue of it. And one of the girls got up and says, "Well, I have to go to church now." And the other girl said, "Well, where are you going? I'll go with you." 
  •  LAWLESS: And she said the same church where I was going, St. Phillips I think. Anyway, when she said that, I said, "I'm gonna nail that little bitch." And she went in— the two of them went to mass. And I decided to change my homily, and I was gonna address myself to the two girls. 
  •  LAWLESS: I introduce myself and said, "I was having a coffee just before I come— I came early this morning because I had never been here before and I wanted to find my way. So I got here early and I was having a coffee next door." I told them what these two little girls said, and I said, "Young ladies, I've got some news for you." 
  •  LAWLESS: I said, "When you said it was staged, well I happened to be there that day." I said, "I was one of the soldiers who liberated it, and I can tell you it was not staged." I said, "I really welcome you to come up and see me after and we can discuss it." 
  •  LAWLESS: They never came up. So the next two weeks every time I got to the church, I got the same question, "Father Joe, have those girls seen you yet?" I said, "No, not at all. I don't expect to see them at all." And I never did see them. 
  •  RAYMOND: Could you? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Revisionist, that's the word I want to use. It's a strong lobby. And I remember seeing a documentary several years ago where there's a reaction taken against it. It was a true incident where there was a reaction taken against revisionists, and they were very successful in doing it. This young lawyer who didn't want to get involved, he did get involved. 
  •  LAWLESS: Maybe you saw it. And he made a fool out of these young people. But the point is, how can you stage something in which a lot of the people, most the people who were at this skeleton level, even if you covered them fully? You couldn't stage it. And why would they want to? Like this premier of Iraq— he's the one who denied it too, said it was staged. 
  •  RAYMOND: Can you tell us for the record— because I'm hoping that other people will see this video— tell us what you first saw? You told us about the rabbi. What do you first see and how long were you at Dachau? What did you see? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Okay. Our first reaction was that people were very, extremely happy to see us there. And I remember some of the soldiers got very emotional about it too and they started shooting into the guards. And some of them gave their rifles to the inmates so they could use them, too. 
  •  LAWLESS: But of course the first feeling was— to see thousands of people at that level of skeletonism and the odors, the smells, the sounds. And they had a large moat around the camp to prevent them from escaping. And there were a number of bodies in the moat where soldiers had killed the guards and threw them in the moat. 
  •  LAWLESS: It was covered up by the Army. But I'd like to have known that it did happen. Because I did things when I was in the Army. I remember one of the things I've always been sorry I got involved in doing it. I participated in killing of about twenty-five to fifty young Germans. And the reason was—they had done that the day before. They took our soldiers and they did the same thing to them. 
  •  LAWLESS: So they brought these troops up and they were young fanatics, Germans. And I and about twelve other soldiers got emotionally involved and we killed them all. And I remember— I remember walking away and smiling with the other guys. And I can remember these— what happened was that happens— It was 1945, that's sixty-five years ago. 
  •  LAWLESS: No, more than that. Seventy-seven, I think. Anyway, I can still hear their voices, those little boys. When I'm saying mass. When I'm walking in the yard. When I'm driving on S-P-R-D. I can still hear them saying, "Don't do it. Don't do it." I can still see their faces. 
  •  LAWLESS: I walk in H.E.B. and I see some mommy with her little boy on the ground, and I say I killed some boy, hardly any older than that. And that's— I've had that happen every day of my life since then. So my interpretation of that is that its God's way of saying, "Hey, you did wrong." And I pray for them everyday. So, what happened is I did something I shouldn't have done. I took human life. 
  •  LAWLESS: And the reason I did it— I justified it. But I'm— I'm suffering for it. I'm paying the price because it's all come back to life for me everyday. Every day. Sometimes I'm saying mass and I can still hear their voices and see their faces. And that's always been with me ever since. But we weren't there— we weren't there about a day and we left. I can remember. 
  •  LAWLESS: When I was stationed in Illinois, one of the gals there had been a nurse at Dachau. And she heard— she heard— she had been there after it was liberated because the Army had to stay there for several weeks because these inmates were dying. 
  •  LAWLESS: Even though they were liberated, they were dying at a heavy rate for weeks after from what happened to them. And they were beyond help. And I remember this nurse saying, "Yeah, I heard you were at Dachau." She said, "Yeah, I was there for several months. They were dying at the rate of something everyday." 
  •  RAYMOND: At the rate of? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Oh, something like fifty or sixty a day for weeks because of malnutrition and everything. But it was just— you couldn't believe that people would do those things. And about a year ago I went back to Europe. I had never been there before, and we stayed in Rome. 
  •  LAWLESS: We had an apartment in Rome. My sister and I. And we took a plane one day to Munich. And Munich is where Dachau is. And it was only a half an hour ride by jet— by jet it's only half an hour. 
  •  RAYMOND: From Rome to Munich. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: From Rome to Munich. So we got off in Munich and got a cab. They had a tour— a tour to Munich, and I went on it to Dachau— tour to Dachau. And my sister and I had an apartment in Munich. And I can remember how nice they were to us, the Germans. I can remember my sister and I walking down to get a bus one night. We stopped at a bus stop. 
  •  LAWLESS: And we were lost. We were trying to figure out how to get there. And all of a sudden this young German woman comes up beside us to get a bus too. And she saw we were lost and she showed us how to get out of there. And my feeling was, Here I am— what I did to Germans, and look what she did. I can't believe those things. And how nice they were to us as Americans. 
  •  LAWLESS: And when we got to Dachau, they had a tour and I remember as soon as I walked in the gate I went— I felt like I'd never left it. Everything came back to us. I could point out this and that, where I was there. And they have in the— on the wall, in the walls of one of the— out by the yard, they have on the wall they have my division patch, my Rainbow— I was in the Rainbow Division, 42nd Division. 
  •  LAWLESS: And they have my Rainbow Division patch with the story of how we came in to liberate Dachau. And while I was there, my sister said, "I'm gonna take a picture of you there." So she took a picture. And there were two young girls watching and they asked, when they heard that I had been in Dachau—they asked if they could take a picture. They were from Canada. So we took a picture. 
  •  LAWLESS: But I felt like— when I was there that day— that I had never left it because there were something like thirty-six boxcars of humans who had died. And they were I think thirty-six, and they had come in from another concentration camp the day before. 
  •  LAWLESS: And they all died from lack of food and cold. It was very cold. It was in April. And you couldn't believe— when you see thirty-six cars— I think there were 36— just stacked high with dead people and there's only one person alive— I have a picture in my division book. And I knew— he later came to New York. He became a tailor. But there's only one person alive out of all those people. 
  •  LAWLESS: And it was just— and it was so— so disheartening to see all those people who could have lived. And then how could people do those— how could people be so cruel? And the German people who have such a background of culture, what they've given to the world. But you know what that— what Nazism is? 
  •  LAWLESS: That was— that was— But I remember I was so grateful, when I look back on it. Remember I told you how I tried to get into the Merchant Marine Academy? And I was so hurt when I couldn't get in because I got drafted. When, after this Dachau incident, looking back on it now, I'm so grateful I went in the Army and I saw that because it's had a big effect on my life— on my attitudes. 
  •  LAWLESS: I don't hate the German people. I have no bad feeling. I don't hate them. I pray for them. You can't judge all of them on what happened. But it was a terrible thing that happened. But [inaudible] Maybe— I personally feel that we had a Holocaust and we killed millions of people. 
  •  LAWLESS: But there's millions of people we kill through abortion. That's my own personal feeling that I'd like to add for record. Yet millions of people we're killing— triple the people killed in the Holocaust. But I'm so happy that I had a chance to see it— to be part of it. And I know my God has forgiven me for what I did because if he held that against me he wouldn't— I wouldn't be wearing this collar today. 
  •  LAWLESS: And he shows the forgiveness of God. We did it because we got emotionally involved. We saw what they did to our guys. We just got overly— how quick— And in war the best and the good— the worst and the best come out of you. 
  •  LAWLESS: You can have both roles and exercise both roles simultaneously, the worst and the best. And I was at that age, eighteen— you're very highly affected by what you see. You still haven't grown up. You're not emotional. You haven't grown to maturity. 
  •  RAYMOND: You were eighteen when you liberated—? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: —when I went in. 
  •  RAYMOND: In Dachau. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah. Eighteen. 
  •  RAYMOND: What did you do? How did you leave? When your division left Dachau, where did you go? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Well, we got on our tanks. We were on tanks and then we got out— went back to Munich. I can remember going into Munich. We were figuring we were gonna have a terrible battle. And we walked into Munich and the people welcomed us with open arms. 
  •  LAWLESS: And the reason was— I can remember— when you're on top of the tanks— I saw a mental picture of it. The German women would be coming up to your tanks and they'd be handing you food and bottles of alcohol, whiskey, wine and everything. And just saying in English how happy we are that you are here. Because they were afraid of the Russians. 
  •  LAWLESS: The Russians were coming, not too far away. I can remember stopping and eating at one of their houses. And the people were so hospitable. They couldn't do enough for us. And when I went back to Munich this time, I remember thinking about that, going down the streets. 
  •  LAWLESS: I said I wonder if I was on this street the day we were there. But how these flashbacks you get, good and bad. But I'm so happy that I was part of it all. That in my own little way I was part of the liberation of that place. ‘Cause it was horrible. Just horrible. What memories those people must have. The way they lived and what they had to go through. 
  •  RAYMOND:Did your division ever talk about it as a— to each other? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: No. We have— we have a division veteran's organization. I've only been able to go to one in New York City. I've never been to one now. But so many of our guys are dead now. World War II. They're dying at such a high rate that I've always been sorry that I never did go to those meetings to talk about it. 
  •  LAWLESS: But every once in a while you meet somebody who was there. But when people say it didn't happen, I'm there to say, "Hey, I saw it." Imagine people say it didn't happen. And that because it was staged. But they didn't tell us what it was that day when they said we're just going— we have a very important place to go to. And Munich is a beautiful city. 
  •  LAWLESS: It's the most— we were told by the guide— and I'm a Catholic— we were told by the guide that Munich is the most Catholic city in Germany. That it has more memorials, second only to Rome, and that in Munich they had an ordinance— it was during the war— no, to this day, I believe, they have an ordinance that any structure that is erected in Munich cannot be any taller than a church. 
  •  LAWLESS: A church has to stand up, whether it's Catholic or Protestant, the church has to— or synagogue. It cannot be any higher than a synagogue or Protestant Church or Catholic Church. Couldn't believe that. I said, here's a— Munich was— the Nazi Party— was the birthplace of Nazism. 
  •  LAWLESS: I was in the big bureau hall where Hitler stood. I couldn't believe it. This is where it all started. Such a beautiful city. This horror. The horror of the Nazi movement— what the Germans did. I remember feeling so bad after the war. I have a picture— I'm gonna have to show you in my room. You're gonna need a compass to get through my room. 
  •  LAWLESS: But it was a picture of— of going through Munich where the German— when the Germans were fighting the war— all the countries they fought in, they took slave laborers to do their work in Germany. They were the workforce. And I remember going through Germany. 
  •  LAWLESS: There used to be slave laborers we'd run into all the time. They'd be from France and from Poland and from Germany, from Russia. Mostly Russia. But after going through the city— I'll show you my pictures. Schweinfurt, Germany— the Russian slave laborers are standing by our side watching us walk up the street. And they were saddened instead. 
  •  LAWLESS: We were wondering, Why aren't they happy? They should be embracing us. They're just standing there looking so solemn— the pained expression on their faces. Women and men. And we found out later on that all of them had to be deported back to Russia— that Russia had a practice of having very bad feelings against any of their soldiers who surrendered or civilians. 
  •  LAWLESS: They consider that a sign of weakness and complying with the enemy. And they put on— I remember they were put on trains. And I can remember us being part of forcing them to go on trains. The women would be begging us, crying, "Please, don't let us— don't send us back. They're gonna send us to Siberia." And we— they'd be crying. I still have a mental picture of them. 
  •  LAWLESS: There's this one young woman, beautiful young Russian woman. "They're gonna kill us." And they did. They were sent back to Siberia, as you know. And I always felt that we were a part of that. We were told by our officers— you had to get ‘em on. Sad. 
  •  LAWLESS: But they knew—in the Army it was covered up, like repression of truth. They took— they had pictures of— when we went into Munich they had pictures of— I had that picture. They had all these prisoners lined up against a wall of a building in Munich, of Dachau, called the SS. 
  •  LAWLESS: The SS was the most notorious part of the German Army. They're the cruel ones. They took no prisoners. And they're all lined up against a wall and one of our soldiers has a machine gun and he's sitting behind it. He's in charge of it. And he's just guarding the machine gun. 
  •  LAWLESS: And we're walking. We're walking around there and watching them too, thinking, Well, they're eventually gonna be put on train and captured. All of a sudden he opens up his machine gun. You could hear it go— we all knew what he was doing. And he's just mowing them down. And some of the prisoners are intentionally standing there. 
  •  LAWLESS: Those are the SS, the fanatics. That's their way of saying, "You're not gonna frighten us." And here's a machine gun. Well, one of their officers went over to try to stop him. And he beat him on the head— tried to stop him. 
  •  RAYMOND: A U.S. officer? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah. He stopped him from doing that. And I have— if I can ever find it someday, I have a tape of that officer talking about it in his home. He's from Massachusetts. And he took like ten years— long after the war, he talked about it— and he told everybody what really happened. He said, "You know, that was not intentional. 
  •  LAWLESS: But I want to let the public know what happened." See, the Army covered that up. And then I remember the day. When I talk about repression of truth, the day I participated in the killing of those prisoners. There was an Army photographer there watching us, taking pictures. 
  •  LAWLESS: And I remember saying to him, "Send us a picture of when you're through." But that's repression of truth. That was one of the first times I was exposed to repression of truth. To this day there's no pictures of that. 
  •  RAYMOND: Do you remember when or where it was? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: That was— that was our side of Schweinfurt— Schweinfurt, Germany. And they had a terrible— a painful thing that they did to prisoners in Dachau, and we saw it when we were there. They would take a man or a woman and tie their hands behind them— their back, and they'd tie a rope to their hands and they'd pull that person up on a pulley and lock into the ceiling. 
  •  LAWLESS: Well, they would sometimes keep that person for hours, and maybe a day. Well, I can remember— I can remember seeing pictures— pictures of those gallows and where they were still hanging. And I remember seeing one of them; his arms had— his arms are tied behind his back, and they came out of the socket and came up above his head. 
  •  LAWLESS: I remember years later when I was in college, University of Georgia, one of the young— my classmate had been a soldier there after the war and he had a postcard and I wish I had it. This is funny. He had a postcard that was made during the war by a German photographer who took pictures of those people with their hands out of their sockets, and they were selling them on the market. 
  •  LAWLESS: And he had one of them. The young man had one of them. And they were selling pictures of that horrendous event. Can you imagine? Put yourself in their place with your arms tied behind you and they come out of their socket, how painful that must have been? Well, anyway, you know what I did? I wrote to the— I wrote to the photographer, the German photographer. 
  •  LAWLESS: He was from Munich. Had the name of the photographer. And I wrote to him and I told him, I said, "I'm looking at this postcard that you sold during the war." I said, "I was a Dachau. I helped liberate that camp." They never answered my card for obvious reasons. 
  •  LAWLESS: See, those are my first encounters with repression of truth. And I was involved in it. I didn't repress the truth, but I was involved. Those pictures should have been taken of us killing those guys, young soldiers. So I saw in the Army, I saw it in college. Every level of life that you are exposed to, there can be repression of truth. Then when you see it in the church too. 
  •  LAWLESS: And the church can find ways of repress— Look at the history of the church. You want to go back to the history of the church— the Catholic Church, what they did. And I wish I could remember some of the incidences. 
  •  LAWLESS: But I got an account and say I have seen repression of truth at every level of my life, eighty-one years of age. I've seen a lot— exposed to a lot. The church is made up of humans who've just come in off the street. That's the church. And what comes in the church is the street. That goes for Mosques, for German— Jewish Synagogues, Protestant Churches. 
  •  RAYMOND: Well— 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I just wanted to bring that up about the— I feel frustrated that I'm not giving you what you came for— 
  •  RAYMOND: No, this is— you are. You are. Thank you very much. I was just gonna suggest that maybe we take a break and maybe we could see some of those photographs that you've talked about? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah. This here— If you mind, I'll show you this. 
  •  RAYMOND:Can you see? We'll probably put it on the— Do you? Do you want to show it and then Tony will focus on you showing it? Maybe? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I don't think I— Are you taking this at all? 
  •  KEFFLER: If you can turn it just a little bit more. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: See that's a picture of me in the Black parish in Los Angeles. 
  •  RAYMOND: You tell me how to hold it. 
  •  KEFFLER: That's good. That's good. 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay. This is a picture of you— 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: In the Black Parish in Los Angeles. 
  •  RAYMOND: That's Compton? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Those are little kids in Compton, California. They just took that— I celebrated my thirty-seventh anniversary on March— June 19 th. And that's the mass they had for me. 
  •  RAYMOND: Congratulations. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: That's the program. They had— so they put the picture of me, but that's my church here, St. Joseph's. They put it on the cover. 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: There's a picture here. This is me walking through Germany. 
  •  RAYMOND: Marching into Germany. And where are you? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm in that group of soldiers 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm actually— in one of them. It's too small to point out. I'm one of them there. 
  •  RAYMOND: Okay. And where is this town? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: That was in Schweinfurt, Germany. RAYMOND: Where the shooting—? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah, uh huh. This is just me having my first— my first services when I was first ordained. 
  •  RAYMOND: Nice. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: This is my first mass in my home parish in Connecticut. 
  •  RAYMOND: I see that's a picture of your mom. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Yeah, it's funny— 
  •  RAYMOND: You see? 
  •  KEFFLER: Mm hm. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: My mom used to— when she was angry at us she'd always call us "boy." Even if it was my sister, she says, "Hey, boy." And I remember at my ordination we had the— I was thirty-nine when I was ordained. 
  •  LAWLESS: My home parish where I was altar boy. And at the reception down on the hall, a lot of people were there. And the kneelers were down there for mom and dad to get their first blessings, and everybody else. So I was ready for my mom and dad to come up and the Bishop's there who ordained me. And everybody's there. We had hundreds of people there. 
  •  LAWLESS: So my mom and dad get down on the kneeler and I started to bless them. And after I bless them, my mom gets up and she puts her finger on my collar and she says, "Don't forget, boy," she says, "Don't forget that I can always kick your butt." [Laughing] In front of the Bishop. He laughed. That was her way of saying— 
  •  RAYMOND: —there's a number of different hierarchies here. More than one boss. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: And then when she came to visit me— she'd visit me out in California. Boy, she could be a cross too when she's out there. She stayed with me something like two months. It was hard for her to assimilate herself somewhat in the Black community because she felt that she wasn't going to be liked. But she was because she fit in very beautifully. 
  •  LAWLESS: But she had— she used to have expressions like— she'd point to a young Black gal. The Blacks— the very— out there they were very— to a— plus they're very touchy people, you know what I mean? Not touchy— by physical touch. 
  •  LAWLESS: They're very quick to just touch you as a sign of— in a nice way, you know what I mean? And they're quick to embrace, and quick to react to you doing the same thing. I have a hang up with these men today. That they're afraid of you. You can always tell. When you hug a man today, they always have one arm that they won't use. The women are not that prone to do that. 
  •  LAWLESS: Women do it too. But you— I can always— my first reaction is now I'm gonna— what makes up this person to me is the way they respond to your hug. When you hug a man today, most of them hold that right arm down. They don't— that's their way of saying, "I don't want you to think I'm gay." And that burns me up. But the Blacks were not there that way. 
  •  LAWLESS: They were very quick to respond. And I can remember when my mom— like you can hug a girl out there and they hug you back. And that was it. But my mom used to get upset because you used— she used to say, "You know you can always—" She had a funny expression. She'd say, "You can always tell a woman by the way she sits." 
  •  LAWLESS: And I used to look and I'd say, "How can you tell that, Mom?" She'd say, "You can." And she said, "Watch that girl. That girl." There are girls who would try to flirt with the priest too. That's what— she used to say things like that. And I used to say, "Mom, that's not what it is." But they used to love her. They used to take her out to restaurants and everything. She's very generous. 
  •  LAWLESS: But that was her way of saying— looking out for her sons. She used to think everybody's out for you. Oh, she was funny! But I'm so lucky that I've had such a variety of ministries. I didn't stick in the same. I didn't pick the same kind of environment. 
  •  LAWLESS: I liked jail ministry, but I wouldn't want to be back in it. I'm— it's sorry that Texas has the highest rate of people in jails. Corpus Christi has the highest rate in the state of Texas. 
  •  RAYMOND: I didn't know that— did not know that. 
  •  RAYMOND: Why do you think that is? 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: Well, I think a lot— I think a lot of people who are jail really don't belong there. You look at the high ratio of Blacks in jails. Does that say that they're all bad? No. But I'm— I personally am against the death penalty. I am against it. 
  •  LAWLESS: I don't believe it's called for. I don't think it's a deterrent toward crime. I think statistics have shown that it is not a deterrent. It isn't. Texas— Texas is— I used like— I like to get the men mad by saying, "You know how you brainwash a Texan? You give him an enema." [Laughing] 
  •  LAWLESS: The men don't like that. I used to say that— when I used to hear, "You keep bragging about Texas." All that. I used to say that when I was in the Army to guys from Texas. "Oh, we're first, we're first. Sir, we have this or this first. We're first and this and that and everything." 
  •  LAWLESS: And I used— I remember the first time I walked in a restaurant here, I had never seen it before in Texas— the men wearing hats. Men. When I was growing up men never wore hats. See, I was wrong. I was judging by my— But it used to burn me up when I first came to Texas. And I used to like to get back at these Texas guys who used to tell me all these things about Texas. 
  •  LAWLESS: I used to say, "Hey, you know how you brainwash a Texan?" I go up there, and he'd say, "No." I say, "You give him an enema." "Oh, you like that. You wanna fight?" I mean, I won't do it anymore. But it's just how I used to get back with these loud-mouthed— it was aimed at the rednecks. 
  •  LAWLESS: At the rednecks. Walking, you'd see them. And you still see them, these men all trying to be machos. I hate— I hate macho-ism. I do. I hate it. I hate it used the way it is. I could say a little thing about little girls— I don't know if I should say it over the— about how little girls are today. 
  •  RAYMOND: Well, maybe we should close here— 
  •  RAYMOND: —or go off the record or something. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I'm sorry. 
  •  RAYMOND: No, no. 
  •  FATHER JOE LAWLESS: I've been going on and on. 
  •  RAYMOND: No, no. 
Mark Video Segment:
[Hide]Copy and paste this link to an email or instant message.
[Hide]Right click this link and add to bookmarks


Title:Interview with Joe Lawless
Abstract:Father Joe Lawless has spent most of his professional career as a Catholic priest. In Video 1, Father Lawless recalls serving in the United States military during WWII, including fighting in Dachau, Germany. He also discusses his life after WWII, including his enrollment at the University of Georgia, and his introduction to Catholic teachings at the Blessed Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts. Father Lawless then speaks about his responsibilities as a Catholic priest serving in different communities around the United States, including Compton, California, New Braunfels, Texas and Corpus Christi, Texas. At the end of Video 1 and in Video 2, Father Lawless discusses his work within the jail ministry and reflects on what he considers the repression of truth within various sectors of society. This interview took place on July 30, 2008 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas.
Sequence:2 of 2
  • Joe LawlessRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Virginia Marie RaymondRole: Interviewer
  • Tony KefflerRole: Videographer
  • Susanne MasonRole: Transcriber
  • Sabina Hinz-FoleyRole: Proofreader
Date Created:2008/07/30
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

Source Metadata

Analog/Digital Flag:--
Carrier Number: of
Signal Format:--



Return to TAVP Interviews