One of the deepest desires of the human heart is to live in communion and good relationship with others. We are sociable by nature and hence, social life and social activities have important roles in our life.
But the present global crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic has become a threat to our social life.
As the race for vaccine production is on, maintaining social distance, wearing face masks, and washing hands frequently have become mandatory as precautionary measures. But social distancing is alien to human nature; many people are falling into loneliness and a host of negative emotions that have sucked the world of its vitality and energy. Some have even harmed themselves out of desperation, depression or distress.
Social life is a need for every human being. But millions of prisoners, all over the world, are condemned to a life of social and societal distancing — some for life and some for many years. They are isolated from home, loved ones and society. Many of them are locked up in congested prisons, in unhealthy environments and among unfriendly people.
One of them said, “Although I am here for committing a crime, I am a human just like you.”
The prisoners live under heavy bondage because of alienation from home and society.
They experience a great deal of anger, fear, revenge and insecurity. They need release from these, and indeed from the jail itself. It is with this goal in view that the organization called Prison Ministry India, or PMI, was launched in 1986. Now, it is established in 650 dioceses in India and has around 8,000 volunteers. I am happy to be a part of it.
I serve as a PMI volunteer in the Berhampur Diocese, in Odisha, one of the northeastern states of India; Prison Ministry India’s vision and mission are:
- Release: Release the prisoners from their mental and emotional bondages, and from the prison itself;
- Renew: Renew and transform their entire life;
- Rehabilitate: Help the released prisoners to adjust to society after a gap of many years in prisons.
We, the volunteers in the Berhampur Diocese, try to realize this vision through various ministries. At first, we were reluctant, but the local Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak motivated us, saying, “Be ready to be humiliated for the sake of the humiliated ones in the jail.” The prisoners were grateful.
The physical and mental well-being of the prisoners is one of our major concerns. We visit the prisoners, listen to them, understand their needs, and counsel them. Jesus said, “I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:36).” Yes! We visit the prisons to meet Jesus there, aided by the two basic principles of Prison Ministry India: “Prayer is our powerhouse and inconvenience is our convenience.”
Many of the prisoners were suffering from eye ailments — some even had worms in their eyes — and so we arranged eye camps in different prisons in our diocese. At our request, the local eye hospital gave free medical check-ups for nearly 500 prisoners, but we paid for the medicines and 300 pairs of glasses. We met all our expenses following the norms given by Prison Ministry India: “God’s providence is our bank balance and begging is our lifestyle.”
Most prisoners’ families live in poverty, especially when the breadwinner is in jail. If the prisoners request it, we visit their houses, conduct prayer meetings, counsel them, help in resolving family quarrels, understand their needs and support them.
Rohen (whose name has been changed) was depressed. He had six small children and no income to support them. We helped his wife to get a small job, met all the initial expenses, and arranged hostel facilities for the children to study.
With that, Rohen was relaxed. He repented of all his crimes. And now, he spends much of his time reading the Bible and praying. He encourages and inspires other fellow prisoners to do the same. Every year, we help with the educational expenses of poor prisoners and their rehabilitation when they are released from jail.
Two seminarians visit them every Sunday, and teach spoken English for young men who are pursuing their studies. The prisoners are happy, since this will enable them to get a job on their release. This is also an opportunity for them to share their problems and concerns, and the seminarians listen and counsel them.
Source- Global Sisters Reports