Despite broken hearts, prisoners dare to smile

By Matters India Reporter

Raipur: Despite broken hearts, prisoners in Raipur Central Jail, smile, says a Catholic nun.

“My idea of prisoners was changed by visiting them regularly. Formerly I thought they have done
mistakes and they are punished. And they deserve it. But now I feel compassion for them. They are also
just like me. I found some are guilty and some others are innocents. Though they are with broken hearts
they try to smile,” Sister Elsy Jose of Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (SMMI) congregation,
told Matters India.

SMMI nuns and their associates are working with jail inmates in Raipur, Chhattisgarh for last 25 years as
volunteers. Other three Catholic women religious orders such as Holy Cross Sisters, Franciscan
Missionaries and Missionaries of Charity Sisters founded by Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta also
collaborate with SMMI sisters bringing hope and joy visiting the jail inmates and interacting with them at
least once in a week for two to three hours through short cultural programs and interaction with women
and children inmates.

At present, there are about 260 women and 25 children, besides hundreds of men. The number is never

These nuns are part of nationwide network of the church-run Prison Ministry of India or Desk for Prison
Ministry under the aegis of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), New Delhi.

Prison Ministry of India has some 6,000 volunteers, including priests, nuns and lay people, who visit
some 800 prisons across India providing counseling and motivational support.

The ministry has more than 33 rehabilitation centers throughout the country, and 29 of them are for
children whose parents are jailed. Some 250 such children live in these centers with the ministry taking
care of all their food and education needs.

The ministry also runs rehab centers for men and women released from the jails but who have nowhere
to go.

“They [people behind the bars] still have hope for a better future. They extend their help and support to
one another. In their suffering they become friends. Some of them are forgotten by their own family
members. But they constantly think of their families and dear ones at home,” Sister Jose said.

“Once I noticed a Muslim girl was observing fasting for days. I said myself being in the prison itself is a
fasting. Where am I? All of us make mistakes. They are caught, but we are not. That is all the difference.
When I listen to them, I realize my difficulties are nothing compare to theirs. We pray for them sincerely.
We feel with them. By our little understanding and concern towards them, they feel comforted,” Sister
Jose said.

The nuns listen to their pain. Some of them wait for them because they visit them every Wednesdays.
Many of them ask for prayers. Some of them have really experienced the compassionate love of God in
their pain and isolation, the nun added.
“Their mental stress is balanced by keeping them busy. Many are engaged in stitching, cooking, and
cleaning. They are also given ample opportunities to learn many things. Their health also is taken care
of,” Sister Jose said.

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