“Be a Love Bomb: Let it explode, not to kill but to heal broken hearts”
The 12th National Conference of Prison Ministry India
Introduction: The Prison Ministry India, a national voluntary organization working for the release, reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners, conducted its 12th National Conference from 23rd Oct 2018 to 26th Oct 2018 at Christ the Bearer of Good News Cathedral Church Auditorium, Rukminigaon, Dispur, Guwahati, Assam with the theme of ‘You are not Alone’. Around 6 bishops, 97 priests, 216 nuns and 197 lay people from northern, north-eastern, central and southern India marked their presence in the conference. On all four days there were sub-themes based on which each day’s conference was held; motivating the volunteers with the sharing of experiences and the message:
‘You are not alone in Prayer,
You are not alone in Suffering,
You are not alone in Joy,
You are not alone in Mission.’
The First Day
The participants were arriving from morning and the National office members and North East regional members were busy in receiving the participants from the railway station and from the airport. Morning at 8.30 am the national office members and the regional office members were for the registration to the accommodation places and at 3.30 all returned after the registration. The conference commenced with the Holy Eucharist on 23rd evening at 5.30 pm by Most. Rev. Michael Akasius Toppo, the Chairman of North East PMI with the sub theme of ‘You are not alone in Prayer’
He implored the blessings and the graces of the Almighty upon the Conference and all it’s events. The special blessings were poured upon all the participants of the Conference, the organising committee and on all our brethren behind the bars. The Liturgy and Choir was arranged by SMI Sisters.
At 6. 45 pm Northeast Cultural connect was organized by Fr. Ivan Vas SVD, The Director, Shalom (Northeast Regional Justice Peace and Development society) for all the participants. All gathered at the auditorium and the programme began with Prayer Dance by SMI Candidates and welcome address given by Fr. Ivan Vas SVD, followed by Arunachal dance Monfort School, Bodo Dance by St Antony School, North Guwahati, Khasi Dance by St. savior School, SMMI Sisters, Baridua, Meghalaya, Bihu Dance by Little Flower school, MSMHC Sisters, Hatogoan, Chero (Bamboo) Dance by Monfort School, Nepali Dance by St. Francis De school, Narengi. The dances were excellent and it was amazing. The Northeast culture was presented and all the participants were excited and with this event all were welcomed to the Northeast.
The Second Day
The day began with Morning Prayer with the sub theme of the day “You are not alone in suffering”. Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist and adoration was animated by Kerala state. The Holy Eucharist was presided over by Most. Rev. Peter Remigius, the former chairman of Prison Ministry India. The first session of the day was “Prison Pulse” shared by Mr. Alex from Bangalore and Mr. Akash singh from Guwahati. They shared their experience, mental, psychological and physical agony as prisoner, their loneliness inside the prison and the service and support extended by the prison ministry volunteers. Fr. Xavier Lakra, Assam State Coordinator was the moderator of the session.
The inaugural function and a welcome note by the PMI National Coordinator Fr. Sabastian Vadakumpadan, followed by the address by the guest-of-honour, the Honourable Justice T. Vaiphai, the Chairman of Human Rights Commission Assam, presidential address by His Grace the Most Rev. John Moolachira, and address by the Most Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, the General Secretary of CBCI. Thoughtful messages were also given by Ranjana Sharma, the IGP of prisons, the Most Rev. Alwyn D'Silva, Chairman of Prison Ministry India and by the Most Rev. Bishop Peter Remigius, the former Chairman and Fr. Francis Kodiyan, the co-founder of Prison Ministry India.
A brief history of Prison Ministry was presented by Fr. Francis Kodiyan, co-founder of the ministry, leading with the story of Alibaba where Alibaba needed EQ, IQ, and LQ. LQ is a spiritual quotient. He said it was a spiritual ministry. We need to have recourse to the most Holy Eucharist and prayer, where we receive LQ, as a “Love bomb” to heal, by receiving and maintaining a personal relationship with the Lord. The divine experience with the Eucharist would give us the wherewithal to overcome disagreement, disunity, misunderstanding etc.
The following books were released at the time of inauguration. ‘Souvenir’ of Prison Ministry India, Love Bomb: Prisoners’ Reformation Trajectory, Create Homes not Cells, Volunteer’s Guide, Best Practices of Prison Ministry India, the Calendar and the T. Shirt were released.
There were 3 competitions were conducted on behalf of 12th National Conference.
Prisoners Life Story writing competition, Essay Writing competition and skit script writing competition and prizes were distributed to the 3 winners of each competition.
The Inaugural function came to the conclusion with the recitation of the Pledge of Prison Ministry India said by Most. Rev. Allwyn D’Silva, the Chairperson of Prison Ministry India and all the participants repeated after him.
Sr. Lettitia UFS, Northeast Regional Coordinator proposed vote of thanks and PMI and National Anthem was sung and all dispersed for the lunch.
“I have been waiting for this for a long time.
But who will take me to jail?”
Was the question asked Sr. Selmy FCC to Fr. Swamy Sadanand when she wanted to forgive Samundar Singh who killed her sister. “Victim offender and Reconciliation” talk about Blessed Rani Maria was given by her own sister Sr. Selmy FCC and the source was from Fr. Francis Kodiyan, and the moderator was Fr. G. J. Anthonyswamy, Tamilnadu state Coordinator. Sr. Selmy shared about her, as a devout child how Blessed Rani maria grew up in an ordinary family, her desire to join the religious life, her missionary spirit, love for the poor and to die for the poor. She also focused on the act of forgiveness from the part of Blessed Rani Maria and her whole family. They have forgiven a murderer and he has become a living witness today.
The workshop on Constitution was conducted on 10 different topics and the entire participants were divided into 10 groups. The resource persons of the workshop were lawyers and they were welcomed by Fr. Ravi Sagar and Sr. Shobha. The participant’s doubts were cleared by the resource persons.
“We have to heal people in prison, who want to repent,
Who want to become better”
After the group discussions the Mizoram state coordinator, Fr. Praveen Fernandez introduced the Archbishop of Guwahati. The Archbishop was instrumental in the starting of the PMI in the North-East. He spoke about the situation and the cases there at present like petty cases, political cases, etc. He stated that we should not be judgemental while dealing with people. People would not respond at the time but they will respond in time. In the current situation our lands are being challenged, and our services are being questioned.
Our presence is hated; there is an increase of migrations, corruption, terrorism etc. We need to be careful. Anger is growing in the world. Right and legitimate anger, anger against colonialism, Dalit anger etc., are used towards its own purposes. At times we are activists, but many a times we are victims. He stated that we should heal this kind of anger. He introduced his book explaining anger and the cycle of suffering caused by anger. He also explained about stored anger. We have to heal people in prison who want to repent, want to become better. We need to work inside and outside for better relationships.
State Reports: Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa, West Bengal and Goa state committees presented their reports. The activities were at the level of renewal, reformation and rehabilitation.
National Executive Body Meeting: The National Executive Body meeting was held at 5.15 pm and 19 members of the National Executive Body were present. Meeting started with the prayer, led by Sr. Regina, followed by the self-introduction of the members. Bp. Allwyn D’silva, the Chairman of Prison Ministry India was welcomed by Fr. Sebastian, the National Coordinator. The previous minutes of the meeting was presented by Sr. Lini MSC, the National Secretary and Mr. Jesuraja proposed and Fr. Xavier Lakra seconded the minutes. Bp. Petr Remigius asked for some clarifications on the State Conference and it was clarified by Fr. Sebastian. Finance Report was presented by Sr. Regina, the Treasurer.
After the Adoration and rosary conducted by U. P State and Dinner, the cultural connect was conducted by Don Bosco Institute, Guwahati and they presented all states culture and it was amazing.
The Third Day
The third day began with the Morning Prayer conducted by Jharkhand State and the Holy Eucharist was celebrated by Most. Rev. John Moolachira, the archbishop of Guwahati and the Liturgy and Choir was prepared by SMI Sisters, Guwahati.
A PMI Volunteer – a Gift of God
Fr. Varghese Karippery, the Founder of Prison Ministry India, in his speech began by quoting Mother Theresa who had told him that working among prisoners was God’s work and volunteers were God’s Gift. He explained that the Charism was being a love bomb that was born out of prayer. It had all started within a group in a small cabin. Later they were given the opportunity to visit all the jails in Kerala. He further said that we needed to follow the methodology of Jesus. We are God’s gifts to others. Explaining the goal of PMI he said that we should allow prisoners to be touched and allow others to touch Jesus through us. As God’s gift we were ambassadors. If we add love to the sufferings it becomes sacrifice. PMI is group work, so we need to be united. As individuals we may draw success but not grace. He added that we should be like the mobile phone of Jesus which should be fully charged and should stay connected to Jesus always. He stated that Prison Ministry was a service where Jesus alone could thrive. So, as religious people we could do wonders wherever we were.
Perspective of different religion on Prison and Prisoner
In the panel discussion, “Prison and Prisoners from the point of a Hindu religious Person”, Dr Bhabesh Kumardas began by reciting a Hindu mantra and introduced the goal of Ramakrishna Mission Ashram. He stated that there was no difference, all were good and all were well, etc. He added that being alone we become like prisoners. We always like to amass fortunes rather than suffering. To do away with suffering we need emotional support and moral strength. Lasting peace is needed for our existence. He quoted Swami Vivekananda on finding God in everything. And he quoted Valmiki who had written in Ramayana “Hate the sin and not the sinner”.
Mr Nurul Laskar, on “Prison and Prisoners from the point of a Muslim religious Person”, said that 5 practices make a Muslim. India is the third largest Muslim population in the world. Explaining the situation in Islamic nations he said that there were very few prisons there, but punishments were severe. Muslims have to say prayers at sun rise and sun set; there is a time set for every activity. So there were fewer crimes but now the times have changed as have our perspective. Here are no separate jails as per one’s religion. He quoted the book on ‘Rights of prisoners according to Islamic law’. Prisons should have safety and security. Therefore there should be separate cells for men and women. According to him the high rate of illiteracy among Muslims should be the bigger concern that leads to higher incidence of criminals and people landing in prison. He explained the work he did for prisoners in his youth and he concluded his message appreciating Prison Ministry and all the work it does.
Dr Biju SDB, on “Prison and Prisoners from the point of a Christian religious Person”, started quoting how and why importance is given to prisoners. Important personalities in the Bible were incarcerated in prison. The Bible says prisoners are innocent therefore punishments should not be harsh. But today hurt people are hurt more inside the jails. The Bible presents the messianic mission as setting prisoners free. God is the liberator. Our God is just and merciful. Therefore we need to be merciful to and forgiving of offenders. We need to see to the need of the prisoner and attend to Jesus through that need. He quoted Mother Mary who accompanied the convict to the cross. We as disciples of Jesus need to constantly affirm that Jesus is with us and that ‘We are not alone’. The questions were also clarified and the Moderator was Dr. Immanuel Uppathadathil MSFS.
In the next panel discussion Shri. Siddhartha Bhattacharya from Assam talked on the topic of ‘Legislation and Prisoners’. He said that people generally think of prison as a place of cruelty. But he assured us that prison was a place of reformation just like cultural centres. Usually the authorities are criticised. He explained about the procedures in jail. He said they attend to prisoners like people who attend to their health at home. He explained how they make them feel that they are not alone; they treat them with friendliness and not as if an obligation. Prisoners’ right of access to family members is availed through telephone booths. They teach them some life skills along with vocational training so that when (s)he is out (s)he gains whatever (s)he had lost. Tailoring sections, computer skills, art, etc. are made available so that there are very less instances of sexual harassments, riots, etc. inside the jails. More and more reformative measures are welcomed. On this front the PMI team was appreciated. They were welcomed to take up new initiatives.
‘Judiciary and Prisoners’: Rights of the prisoner from the judicial perspective were explained by the member secretary of Assam assembly, Shri. S. N. Sharma. He congratulated all the delegates who were helping prisoners. Crime was the outcome of time. So the jail should be hospital for the cure of crime. Reformation is the main purpose of imprisoning a person. Prisoners’ rights are human rights. The judiciary is taking care of their rights. From 1950, since the constitution was put in place, these rights were allotted to prisoners. The judiciary sees to it that the rights of prisoners are not violated. Towards this end a committee is also set up. Acquittal and rehabilitation committees are also set up of which the Chief Judicial Officer is the head.
‘Judiciary and Prison activists’: Activist Shrimathi Rosanna Lyngdoh, Board Director, Impulse NGO Network gave us the perspective of judiciary and prison activists on the rights of prisoners. She began by saying that building happiness is required to bring down crime. Leaders need to make efforts to put happiness in place. She cited an example of a young girl of 11 years who committed a crime; but she said lock-up is not a friendly place for an 11-years-old. It should be a location that allows people to live with dignity. She illustrated the story of a young girl who did not get legal help to come out of prison. After she concluded, we proceeded with finding answers to our pressing questions concerning legal issues.
‘Prison and Prisoners’:Shri. Ranjan Sharma, IGP in his message stated, “…The issues concerning correction and rehabilitation are so complex, that governmental efforts howsoever serious and sincere are not enough to address them properly unless supplemented by community participation and supports. While prison inmates need to be assisted towards gainful engagement after release, it is also important to save their indigent families from ruination during prolonged incarceration of the bread-earners. Similar care also needs to be taken of the families of homicidal victims who happened to be chief earning members for the families. Unfortunately, there is an acute dearth of voluntary organizations, with dedicated charters, for aid and welfare for the offenders, or their aftercare and rehabilitation, let alone welfare of their families, or of victims’ families. In such a scenario, PMI stands out as a welcome example of societal response and support in this field. I am told that the organization has more than 30 years’ record of service, in the field of welfare, renewal and rehabilitation of prison inmates, and it also aims at the welfare of their families, as well as victims’ families. So far as Assam is concerned the programmes of moral discourse and cultural performance etc., conducted by PMI in a few prisons of the State, have been well-received by the inmates.” The Moderator of the panel discussion was Fr. Ravi Sagar.
Prison Ministry India and Rehabilitation
Sr. Clara from Jeevodhaya Rehabilitation Centre for released women prisoners, in her sharing detailed about the origin and growth of the Prison Ministry as she was one of the pioneer volunteers in Bangalore. Then she continued to explain about the rehabilitation centre. She said the inmates may look happy but they have a lot of grief in their hearts. It should not be a boarding, it should be a home-away-from-home, and it is a way of life. When they come they are allowed to be what they want to be. Slowly they change and gradually they are occupied by engaging in different kinds of skill-set training etc. She added that if they come to know about the inmates’ abilities, they help them to continue their studies or work. She further explained the risks in handling these girls. She illustrated with the story of a girl who had a series of complaints. Sr. Clara emphasized that to start a rehabilitation centre no qualification is needed but that God qualifies; no abilities are needed, but only availability is needed.
State Reports: Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Orissa, Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Northeast states committees presented their reports. The activities were at the level of renewal, reformation and rehabilitation.
Regional wise Discussion
All the participants were asked to go to their groups for the region-wise discussions and the following were the points discussed for better regional growth:
Regional wise election was conducted to the new national executive body and also formation of Regional Executive Body took place.
At 6.30 pm Adoration and rosary was conducted Maharashtra state and after the dinner there was wonderful and excellent “Cultural Night” prepared by the participants from all the states and it was coordinated by National team members. It added light and colour to the conference. Every state participated and presented their culture.
The Fourth Day
The fourth day begun well with the Praise and Worship Service by Sr. mary Mathew SMI and by Fr. Thomas Ettiyil VC at Christ the Bearer of Good News Cathedral Church. The heavenly blessings poured upon all the participants as all raised their voices up to heaven with loud praises.
North East Pulse was shared by the volunteers, Sr. Rosia BS and Mr Francis Thantluanga. They shared their personal experience of working for the vulnerable ones, the brethren behind the bars.
There was also a special sharing by Mr Anto Akkara, a writer and an activist on the theme of “Innocents in Prisons” who shared about the Kandhamal experience. Mr Anto Akkara, who is an activist and journalist, presented many incidents pertaining to various people at Kandhamal. He said there were seven poor and innocent people languishing in the jail for 10 years including a mentally-challenged man. He conveyed the message with documentary films. He said none of the Christians had become Hindus even after so much torture, but rather many Hindus had become Christians. He has travelled far and wide addressing people from various capacities and campaigning for the release of these seven prisoners.
Mr Francis, a retired State Bank employee, from Mizoram who is an active lay volunteer for PMI shared his experience. He said that he was unaware of anything about the outside world other than the bank and money, but he was inspired by Ms Merlin’s sacrifice to start an office and the ministry. He said in Mizoram they had 0.5 percentage of Catholic population and they were like the salt of the earth in prison.
General body Meeting- Future plans
The meeting began at 9.20 am and was presided over by the Most Rev. Peter Remigius, the former chairperson of Prison Ministry India. Bro. Naveen Ekka said a small prayer at the beginning of the meeting and all the members were welcomed by Bp. Peter Remigius. Sr. Lini MSC, the National Secretary presented the minutes of the last General Body Meeting. Then Bp. Peter Remigius explained to us the obligations of the Annual General Body Meeting and of the approval of minutes, approval of accounts and elections. Members were also given a clear picture of the present financial status in detail. He said that the caritas fund was from local caritas for the vehicles and other than that there were no project funds. Mr Alwares proposed and Mr Rajendran and Bro. Sunnilal seconded and everyone approved this. But there was an objection from Fr. Wilfred Fernandes, Maharashtra State Coordinator who pointed out that the persons who proposes and seconds must be persons who had attended the last General Body Meeting. He was applauded for his valid and immediate response. Then Fr. Timothy Victor Pinto, Orissa State Coordinator approved the minutes.
Further Fr. Sebastian was asked to present the future plan, which was as follows:
After this the memorandum was presented to the group by Mr Jesuraj, Secretary of Tamilnadu PMI.
The Conference came to it’s conclusion with the Holy Mass presided over by Most. Rev. Allwyn D’Silva, the Chairperson of Prison Ministry India and liturgy and choir was organised MSMHC Sisters. With the lighted candle all the participants took pledge.
There are about 6000 volunteers including priests, nuns, brothers and lay persons involved in this ministry. The volunteers regularly visit the prisons to counsel, to provide medical aid and to prepare for further studies, and also visit the families of both victims and prisoners for taking care of the requirements of their family members. There are 30 rehabilitation centers set apart for the care of released prisoners, children of prisoners and the victims to give them hope, help and love. The objective of the conference was to weave together views and ideas and exchange these with the government authorities for the welfare of prisoners and the future of the PMI.
The theme of the conference "You are not alone" gave the message to the PMI volunteers that in our ministry work of reaching out to the prisoners and their families, we are together in spirit, together in our joy and suffering, in our mission and in prayer that strengthens and binds us to each other; and this is the very message that the volunteers should be conveying to our brothers and sisters behind the bars. ‘You are not alone’ should be reinforced through our interactions with them and help them reform their lives within and outside the prison walls.
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