29th July 2017
My experience in the Prison Ministry
My Experience in the Prison Ministry of India
“I was in prison and you visited me.” Mt 25:36
To do any good to the least of our brothers or sisters is equal to doing it to our Lord Jesus Himself (Mt 25:40). And prisoners are counted among the least and they are people without faces. They have no identities or dignities. Even their names are replaced with numbers. More often they are looked at with suspicion or hatred and viewed as mere criminals.
At times it looks justified to hate them and isolate them. But for a disciple of Jesus, His commandment rings clear and true: Love everyone, including your enemies and pray for all. It is also a worthy reminder that Jesus died for us even when we did not deserve it. He took upon himself all our sins and made atonement for us by his death on the cross. Being his disciples we are to portray him to our world. We need to learn to look at everyone as God does. Let us look at everyone, including the prisoners with merciful eyes. That is what I remind myself every time I visit the prison. The moment we begin to look at them without any preconceived prejudices they present to us a different picture. We begin to realize that they are human and that they suffer much in prison. The loneliness kills them. Guilt and shame eat up their very being. They feel they are lost and redemption is never a possibility. The suffering is complete in every sense. They suffer physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
There is still another group in prison who unjustly suffer the imprisonment. Their stories are all the more tragic. Some suffer for the lack of money to get the bail. In such cases, the Sanjeevani Foundation-Prison Ministry India offers help in many ways possible. In certain cases we help them with legal aid and in some cases we help them gain bail by assisting them with financial support. The visit itself is a great help for the prisoners. They get a chance to voice out their opinions even when they have limited freedom. They feel they are treated like fellow human beings and there is someone to care for them and for their families. To attest the point, let me state an example. We had a prisoner who was never visited by his family members. He was completely given up by his family. PMI took that as a challenge and visited his family. Our visits bore the desired result. They accepted the misfortune and saw the person for what he was. Now they visit him regularly. Reconciliation is achieved and PMI played a decisive part in it.
The three motives of the prison ministry can be summarised as ‘Three R’s. They are: Release, Renewal/Reformation and Rehabilitation. These are not three consecutive stages. They can overlap into the other. PMI works towards the release of the prisoners. This is an integral release we are speaking about. The prisoner is to be released from his/her old self and old ways. The prisoner is to be released from his/her guilt and shame. His/her release is always aimed at proper resettlement. The prisoner should be able to lead a normal life free from all bondage. This is not an easy task. The reason is that this calls for the reformation. The prisoner is to reform himself/herself; reconcile with his/her past; the people around him/her should accommodate him/her. This calls for enormous efforts and is a herculean task. But with the Lord everything is possible. And so we rely on prayers and it has yielded good results. Once the reconciliation and reformation is done, the resettlement is relatively easy. In the process of resettlement sometimes we assist them with financial support.
Besides working towards release, reformation and rehabilitation the ministry also tries its best to assuage the sufferings of prisoners even when they remain within the darkness of prison walls. We make regular visits and make them feel cared for. This is done in a concrete manner by organizing medical camps, by conducting some competitions, by helping to build a library in the female section of the prison (Atharwadi), by helping them to pray, by visiting the families of prisoners when possible etc. “Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done it to me” (Mt 25:40). And following the commandment the modern day Saint Mother Theresa said that she saw Jesus in every dying and sick person. And that made it easy to tend the stinky and festering wounds of the suffering person. It is the same with us. The moment we see Jesus in the least of the brothers/sisters – the prisoners – the work among them is made easy and spiritually enriching. Let us all remember that our Lord Jesus was once a prisoner.
- Sr. Dhanam Mary, Kalyan Hospital