THE ANGEL OF PRISONS

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    Sr. Mary Jane (75), née Maria Rita Aurora Pinto, was twice Mother General of Holy Family of Nazareth Congregation of Sancoale. She was born in Arusha, Tanganyika, East Africa, on May 7, 1941. Headmistress of Perpetual Succour Convent High School-Navelim in 1969 and remained in that post till 1984.

    She did yeoman service in education. She was then elected Superior General from May 1984 and held the office till 1996, that is, for two terms. Besides overseeing the opening of about 14 houses in Goa and beyond during her tenure as Mother General (Haryana, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Gujarat, Miraj, Korgao in Pernem and Kholapur Wattangi among others), she sent her nuns to undertake social work at the red light area of Baina (Vasco) and amidst the slums of Birla. She founded a clinic at the slum/red light region of Khareband, Margao.

    SOME GLIMPSES OF REV. SR MARY JANE PINTO’S LIFE

     

    Journalist Paul Fernandes once wrote: “Sister Mary Jane Pinto has a deep fascination for the poor and the oppressed. Even as a child of five in Africa, she followed a beggar without limbs in a wheelchair. It was a bad experience then as she got lost. But in later years she was to realise that she had an instinctive affinity for the needy and the unfortunate. It was, and still is, a driving force to wipe their tears that propelled her at the age of 15 to become a nun.”

    Sr Mary Jane Pinto and the prison ministry have brought a touch of compassion, love and sense of purpose in inmates’ lives for the past seventeen years. As a result, depression, violence and hatred no longer reign supreme in prisons in the state.

    At 74, paying little heed to her aching bones, Mary Jane insisted on interacting with the inmates “no matter how low they have sunk and what crime they have committed”.

    Few inmates call her sister. Most refer to her as ‘MA ‘ and ‘DIDI’.  Prisons should be reformative, not retributive and that all prisoners are human beings and can change,

    Mary Jane organised three main cells— EDUCATION , CULTURE and SPORTS —believing firmly that an hour of crisis can be turned into one of opportunity.

    Many enter prison illiterate. The ministry tutors them, pays for their fees and other material they need. Majority of the inmates are from outside the state and when possible Mary Jane arranged for teachers or counsellors who speak other Indian languages to interact with them. Fr Antonio Fernandes, fluent in Nepalese, had been engaged to counsel Nepali inmates. Mary Jane also initiated the setting up of the computer room in 2004 at the central jail, Aguada. Inmates have also been taught to make candles, paper bags, bamboo baskets and through games are taught values.

    Another important role the ministry plays in prisoners’ lives is the paying of the One lakh deposit for their parole. Caritas through the prison ministry pays the deposit and stands surety for the 28-day period, providing residence for those prisoners who have no home accommodation.

    “Many have no family member who can afford to pay the deposit and there were many who had not stepped out of jail for 13 years. They were dejected. Parole exposed them to freedom and an
    experience of social life, something that helps when they are released,” Mary
    Jane says.

    When both parents are in jail, when one has murdered the other, or where the only living parent is in jail, Jane ensured that the children get education with the help of contributions from donors. She personally went from school to school checking on the children, paying their fees, attending open day and checking their report cards.

    Where a convict couldn’t forgive himself and families or their loved ones for their crime, Jane stepped in. In one case where a prisoner electrocuted his mother and nieces, he began hating himself. Over time, through interaction, he found the strength to carry on and lives a fruitful life today. In another case a convict’s wife and family would not accept him back. After many meetings and discussions Mary Jane coaxed them to reunite.

    She was also part of the high-level commission that visited jails and remand home Apna Ghar to give suggestions for infrastructure, welfare measures and rules on health of inmates. It resulted in the new manual for prisons which focuses on remedial rather than punitive measures. She has also helped set up social centres and schools to empower women.

    Mary Jane had never supported the term hardened criminals, always believing it is important to treat them as part of society and not outcasts. “They are all mild, friendly and cooperative. They have learnt to become humane and grow socially.”

    She says her work would not have been  possible without the cooperation of prison ministry volunteers and the government. “My role is like that of a farmer to sow and spread the good seed in receptive minds. After sowing it is left to God because where reason ends, faith begins.”

    In the words of a close associate, Gerard Delaney, who had worked with Mother Jane

    ” Hailing from the same village as me, Sr. Mary Jane was known to me for a long, long time, but only as a nun, not as a person. Four years back, when I retired from service, I joined the Prison Ministry when another fellow villager David Fernandes invited me to do so. That’s when I began coming into close contact with her. Sr. Jane would set out of her convent in Sancoale at 6 a.m. and walk to the road a half kilometer away with a prayer on her lips, asking the Lord for a lift. She would accept whatever He provided her at that early hour when there was hardly any sign of traffic on the road. One lift after another, and maybe yet another, and she would reach her locked home in Saligao to tidy up a bit or to water her beloved plants.

    It was from there that I and sometimes another volunteer had the privilege to pick her up and take her to the Aguada Central Jail in the comfort of a car. But often, it would be a two wheeler on which she travelled, even in her advanced age. It must be noted to her great credit that years earlier, she would take lifts right up to Sinquerim and then walk all the way uphill to the jail in Aguada. An hour later, she would walk back there and take buses to go home to Sancoale.

    I was very fortunate to have served as an ‘apprentice’ under her, because I got to learn from her what the real spirit of a volunteer in this work must consist of.

    The moment we entered the jail premises, the convicts would be running up to her, and she would greet each one by name, making personal inquiries. She would ask one how he was faring with his bout of piles, another about his swollen leg, yet another about his diet, and so on. She would jokingly smack one on the head for being disobedient to her or pinch another on his arm for some other reason and it didn’t take me long to discover that the former Mother Superior of her religious order (the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth) was a real mother to the 120 odd convicts over there! They loved her for what she did for them, and for what she meant to them.

    It was so impressive to see the way she would be so concerned about each one who came to meet her for one reason or the other. She genuinely took a deep interest in their welfare and would extend a helping hand in whatever way she could.

    I recall the time when the jail authorities brought to her notice the sad plight of a prisoner M– — . He was serving a life sentence and had already spent 10 years behind bars, but had never come out on parole because he had no one to stand surety for him. As per rule, unless a lifer comes out on parole and proves that he can successfully go back to society, he cannot be released prematurely after the mandatory lockup of 14 years.

    Time was running out for M– — and at this rate he would remain behind bars all his life. That’s when Sr. Jane informed Fr. Maverick the Director of Caritas, who stood surety for him and took him to Old Goa to stay at their Centre there. This was the start of a parade of convicts who got the opportunity to come out on parole at regular intervals and to stay in Old Goa.

    Likewise, another lifer, K– — was taken to Old Goa after being locked for 10 years, even though he had his home in Mayem with his wife and three children. Inquiries revealed that his wife was estranged with him. Sr. Jane asked me to take her there and we found his house with some difficulty.

    Fortunately his younger daughter aged 12 was at home because it was a holiday for her school. Sr. Jane asked her if she remembered her father, which of course, she did not. She then asked her if she’d like to meet him and the little girl jumped with joy! After exchanging phone numbers and giving her some advice, we left.

    Two days later there was a very emotional and tearful reunion at Old Goa of the father with his family, thanks to Sister Jane.

    I remember the incident of another lifer who had his wife in Bicholim, who never came to visit him. Even when Fr. Maverick had brought this guy to Old Goa on parole, she would not come there. That’s when Sr. Jane and I visited her and found her struggling to eke out a living in the market. Unfortunately, no amount of imploring or beseeching would make her budge as we realised that the wife had severed all ties with her husband.

    I have heard of several other accounts of Sr. Jane going out of her way to patch up differences between a convict and his family, of times when she has come to the rescue of the children who were as good as orphaned, or even financially helping the grown up children of the convict to finish their studies, or repair their home.

    She was truly an angel in disguise. Sr. Jane never let pass an opportunity to knock some sense into the heads of the prisoners. Every time when there was a function in the jail and all the prisoners were gathered in the hall, she would give them a good encouraging sermon on love, forgiveness and acceptance.

    Under her guidance and leadership, so many reforms were introduced in the jail, about which articles have been written in the newspapers, and for which she has been rightly honored by the state and national authorities.

    Thanks to her, the convicts got to sell their handiworks to the public and were able to earn and save up. The last image which I remember of Sr. Jane is that of her invariably carrying a parcel to the jail with little knick knacks for the convicts – prayer books, story books, rosaries, bibles, etc.

    Undoubtedly, Sr. Mary Jane brought a bright touch of compassion, love and sense of purpose in the inmates’ lives. She has been a love bomb which exploded not to kill, but to heal broken lives! Thanks to her and her team of volunteers, the prisoners have hope to live for, their dignity restored and balm applied to their depression, violence, hatred and anger. Adieus Sr. Jane, mother to the convicts and healer of their souls. No doubt but Jesus must have said to you: “Well done thou good and faithful servant, now enter into the kingdom specially prepared for you.”

    The then CM Laxmikant Parsekar condoled the death of Sr Mary Jane

    The chief minister stated that Sr Mary Jane Pinto was instrumental in social rehabilitation of prisoners by providing counselling and vocational awareness leading to attitudinal positive changes, mental stability and transformation of prisoners into disciplined citizens. With the demise of Sr Mary Jane Pinto, the State had lost a great social worker known for her compassion, love, hope and help.

    In recognition and appreciation of her contributions to the Prison Ministry, Directorate of Women & Child Development – Government of Goa had honoured Sr Mary Jane Pinto with the prestigious Rajya Mahila Saman Award for the year 2014.

    July 13 2000

    Prison officials in Goa,  praised the Catholic nun for reforming prison conditions by motivating convicts through education, meditation and a campaign against plastic.

    Sister Mary Jane says she ended up transforming prisoners into “crusaders against the plastic menace” by getting them to make paper bags, a skill they could use after their release.

    Sister Jane, who worked in Goa´s Aguada Central Jail in Sinquerim, said she was not interested in the “plastic business” until she saw a cow die after it ate a three-meter plastic sheet from a city garbage dump.

    She then arranged for Pinto’s organization to conduct a session with over 200 prisoners in Aguada jail.

    Sister Jane overcame the prisoners´ reluctance by convincing them to look beyond payment and learn a skill that would help them after their release,

    Sister Jane said she got regulations amended to allow a remission of two days in a convict´s sentence for every 1,000-paper bags made.

    Pinto said her organisation has already set up an shop to sell the paper bags the prisoners, adding that the profits would be donated to the prisoners´ welfare fund.

    Sanjit Rodrigues, deputy collector in charge of the jail, said Sister Jane also initiated classes in literacy, music, arts and crafts, and meditation for the convicts.

    “Whatever reforms were introduced in the jail, Sister Jane had a lion´s share in it,” Rodrigues said, adding that the motorcycle-riding nun works as an intermediary between prison officials and prisoners.

    With the nun´s work, “the inmates now talk with a presence of mind” and “relate among themselves in a nice way.” Rodrigues told

    Sanjay Khirwar, Goa state´s inspector general of prisons, said that before the nun started working, jail inmates suffered stress, especially during court hearings and medical examinations, and reacted inappropriately.

    Khirwar said Sister Jane´s efforts have “a calming effect” on inmates. “We intend to keep her classes a regular feature in the jail,”

    Rodrigues called the habit-clad nun “a mother figure” and said prison staff got “a lot of cooperation from the prisoners” since her arrival in 1994.

    A surgeon who helps the nun in her jail mission, Silvano Sapeco, told  that Sister Jane has proved that proper motivation can change even “hardened criminals.”

    Sister Jane said she was inspired to work with prisoners after she heard a talk in 1994 by Kiran Bedi, a Magsaysay Award-winning woman police official known for prison reform.

    “It was then that I got involved in the juvenile welfare board and eventually the prison ministry,” Sister Jane said.

    THE ANGEL OF PRISONS PASSES AWAY AFTER A BRIEF ILLNESS

    Sr Mary Jane Pinto (SFN), popularly known as Mother Jane, passed away on 20th April 2016 after a brief illness. The funeral  took place on April 21 at 3 pm at Our Lady of Rosary Church, Navelim.

    Sr Mary Jane started the Prison Ministry, Goa Unit, in 1997 after she was appointed as the area coordinator by the central office of the Prison Ministry India. She worked closely with prison authorities to ensure that prisoners were treated with dignity, and worked tirelessly to impart education and vocational skills, such as tailoring, handicrafts, candles and paper bag-making, counselling, sports, plumbing and electrical wiring, computer training, and painting.

    Sr Mary Jane played a big role in setting up a centre of IGNOU and NIOS within jail premises with the help of the jail administration. Inmates are now able to appear for examinations within the premises, without being taken to examination centres outside the complex.

    This facility has resulted in several inmates enrolling themselves in different disciplines provided both by IGNOU and NIOS. She had the privilege of seeing some of them pass with flying colours in the first such exam in December 2015.

    By her sheer dedication and commitment towards the welfare of the convicts, their families as well as the victims, she has carved out a name for herself as the ‘Angel of Prisons’.

    She worked for the rehabilitation and resocialisation of prisoners after their release and tried to build up an acceptance by the family members and the victims.

    State award winner Sr Mary Jane Pinto from Saligao  has stressed that a sick mind drives some to crimes such as rapes, thefts, murders, suicides, molestation and so forth and it was important that one has a healthy mind and develops healthy thoughts to achieve a good life.

    Speaking further Mother Jane who at 74  worked tirelessly among the prisoners at Vasco and Aguada said that much depends on the upbringing of a boy or a girl.

    “However I must stress that many of us today are sick in mind and it is this sick mind that drives us to negative thoughts and crimes. This is a great cause of concern. Poverty and other sicknesses are today not a threat to society but hatred and despise are the major threats. We therefore should learn to love one another and have a healthy mind so that we can have a constructive approach to life”.

    Mother Jane further pointed out that every prisoner can have a good future just as every saint has a sinful past. “I have never asked a prisoner till date why he is in the prison but after getting emotionally connected with me they open up and regret for what they have done. I give them necessary advice or counselling so that it helps them realise how important they are and how much good they can do if they sincerely reform”.

    For over 17 years, Sr Mary Jane Pinto and the prison ministry have brought a touch of compassion, love and sense of purpose in inmates’ lives. As a result, depression, violence and hatred no longer reign supreme in prisons in the state.

    THE ANGEL OF PRISONS‘  LIVES ON

    REV. SR MARY JANE PINTO , S.F.N. GOA
    March 07, 1941 – April 20, 2016

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