It happens, and, as the highly respected Catholic author, Joseph Pierce, writes in this article from Catholic Exchange, it happened to him.
Many good and worthy people in the past have found the experience of imprisonment a crucial and definitive period on their road towards faith and religious conversion, or as a means of deepening an already existing faith. Saint John of the Cross springs to mind, as does Miguel Cervantes, and the great Nicolae Steinhardt, whose book on his time in prison is called The Happiness Diary. We could also add the French poet, Paul Verlaine, the Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, and the iconic Russian Nobel Prizewinner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
As was the case with these illustrious figures, my own experience of prison exemplified the paradox that prison can be a liberator. It can free us from ourselves and our pride-ridden prejudices. In many ways, prison serves as a metaphor for the role and purpose of suffering in our lives, which is to remind us of our mortality and prompt us to ask deep questions about the meaning of life, suffering and death. Prison can serve as a memento mori pointing us toward the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Thinking of these things is the beginning of wisdom. As Oscar Wilde put it, speaking of his own experience in prison, “how else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?” It is for this reason, echoing Solzhenitsyn, that I can truly thank God for my time in prison.
In my case I had been sent to prison twice as a young man for hate crimes under Britain’s Race Relations Act, sentenced as a twenty-year-old and then as a twenty-four-year-old for “publishing material likely to incite racial hatred”. I spent my twenty-first birthday and my twenty-fifth birthday behind bars. During the earlier sentence I was a defiant unrepentant fanatic, boastful in my perceived role as a political soldier and a political prisoner. This had changed by the time I began my second sentence, at the beginning of which I found myself alone in a cell in London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison, fingering the rosary beads that someone had given me during my trial.
I knew what rosary beads were. In my anti-Catholic past they had been a symbol of the idolatrous Catholics, or “papists”, whom I had always held in contempt. My father called Catholics “bead rattlers” and I had learned from my anti-Catholic friends in Northern Ireland a song in which we jeered that we wanted “no nuns and no priest and no rosary beads”. I recalled that when I was a young boy my father had thrown my maternal grandmother’s rosary beads out of the window, telling my mother in no uncertain terms that we were not having these papist beads in the house.
Retrieved January 29, 2015 from http://catholicexchange.com/finding-freedom-prison-cell-journey-racial-hatred-rational-love