At a tender age, Prashanthi (all names in this account have been changed) was given in marriage to Lokesh, a man addicted to alcohol. His drunkenness and irresponsible attitude made life miserable for Prashanthi. Even the basic needs of their little son were not met. He used to come home drunk every day and beat her for no reason, so much so that she would tremble with fear. One day, she hid behind the door when she saw him coming home. On that fateful night, he started thrashing her up as usual. Their 2-year-old child was in her arms. He dragged her into the kitchen and battered her. In self-defence, she pulled out a log of firewood and hit him on the head. He dashed against a wall and dropped dead. Terrified, she ran to the police station with the child in her arms and admitted to the involuntary murder of her husband. She was arrested and sent to prison along with her 2-year-old son Anil.
At the age of 6, Anil was shifted to Kolbe Home in Bengaluru, a rehabilitation centre for prisoners' children run by Prison Ministry India. Prashanthi, with gratitude and tears rolling down her face, said to me, “If Anil had grown up with us, he would not have become the smart and intelligent boy that he is now. His talent in singing, dancing and sports has bloomed only because he has been under your care.” Prashanthi, who was released from prison, and her son are one of the 40 beneficiaries of the “Housing Project” launched by Prison Ministry India as part of the Ruby Jubilee celebrations (1981-2021).
Where are Your Brethren?
This true story invites humanity to understand the depth and seriousness of the misery that accompany child marriages. The poor young girls are pushed into marriages before they turn of age. She who is herself a child carries a child in her womb. She does not know how to take care of herself and yet is forced to take care of the other child who is born to her. Prashanthi went through a miserable stage in life at a tender age. Did Prashanthi ever know when she was up on the stage prepared for her wedding that she will be thrown behind the bars one day? Did she ever think that she will be called a criminal one day? There are lakhs of prisoners who are behind the bars due to accidental causes. She never intended to kill her husband. But, it happened! Whose fault was it? Prashanthi was thrown into the dark cells of the prison and was in a hopeless situation. If Prashanthi was not considered as our sister, what would have been her life, and that of Anil? As God asked Cain, where is your brother? In Genesis 4:9, the same God asks each one of us where our brothers and sisters are? For PMI volunteers, our brothers and sisters are behind the bars and we encounter our living God in their brokenness and woundedness. Jesus too was broken on the Cross; salvation came to the world from His brokenness.
God’s children behind Prison Walls
Fear kills every one of our brethren behind the bars. The worry of what tomorrow will bring takes away their energy. When we meet our brethren in prison, most of the time, their only request is ‘Sister, pray for me and my family. Tomorrow is my hearing, my bail order, my daughter’s marriage.’ And the list goes on. The pain, fear and suffering behind the prison walls are uncountable. A prison is a place of pain, tears, struggle and suffering! What will be, if they know that their tears will one day turn into graces? Jesus acclaimed of the sinful woman who anointed Him, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair” (Luke 7:44-45). I’m sure that Jesus is acclaiming our brethren who are crying out to Him from the prison walls, who wet His feet with their tears, whose kisses are unstoppable, from their brokenness and in their transformation. The woman was a sinner in the eyes of humans, in the eyes of the so-called Pharisees. But in the eyes of Jesus, she was a child of God, nothing else. Every brother/sister of ours from the dark cells of prison are the children of God.
Who can stop the Mercy of God?
Jesus remarked about the sinful woman to righteous people. In our journey with our brethren, many a time, they become our teachers from their moments of desperation and nothingness. In their nothingness, through their child-like faith, Jesus becomes their everything. Although the prisons are filled with hard-core criminals, terrorists, rapists, hired-killers, thieves, the graces too flow there in abundance. Who can stop the mercy of God? Can prisons become places of redemption? Can a sinner be redeemed? The Holy Bible is a saga of redemption. The Israelites cried when they were persecuted and God send Moses to rescue them from the hand of Pharaoh. But the people of Israelites turned away from God and worshipped idols. Yet our living God was patient and He accompanied them on their journey to the promised land. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). In the story of footprints, we read God saying to the man who looked back and saw only one set of footprints, “In your happiness, I walked with you, but in your struggles, I carried you.” Prison is not a bed of roses. It’s thorns, thistles and stones. God carries every one of our brethren in His tender arms.
PMI - Listening to Unshared Feelings!
Vinay (name changed) was released from prison and was given a job in a printing press. One day I happened to go there to meet the owner and a friend of mine. Vinay came to know of my presence, he ran over to meet me and called out to me in a desperate tone from outside. I went out immediately and he said, “Sister, I haven’t told any of my colleagues that I am an ex-prisoner, except for the owner. If they come to know, they would all look down on me. Please sister, don’t tell anyone”. I promised him that it will not be revealed at any cost. After he spoke, I could feel the many unshared thoughts that were running through his mind about his future. These are the fears of the released ones! Will I be arrested again? Will I lose my job if others come to know? Will my family be safe?
PMI members not only enter the dark cells of the prison, but they also enter the dark side of our brethren’s lives and light their lives with the mercy and grace that we receive from Jesus Christ, our Lord and our redeemer. It is only because we listened to their unshared feelings that the Spirit guided us to construct 40 houses for prisoners’ families and open many more rehabilitation centres. We are called to “be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to us; to watch over them, not as a duty but gladly” (1 Pet 5:2). Today, the entire PMI family is entrusted with 1350 prisons, 4,78,600 prisoners and their families, to be the shepherds who know the smell of the sheep. Today, the population in India is 1,392,700,250. Can we have 4,78,600 volunteers to take care of the 4,78,600 brethren of ours, their families and to understand their unshared feelings?