By Sr Angela McKeever SSC
A few days before Christmas I went to visit the women prisoners in the local jail. Usually there are 25 or more in the punishment cells but, possibly because of the season, only seven were incarcerated that particular day. The charges against them are mostly of drug and alcohol abuse, and fighting. Their faces are familiar to me and most of them responded to my greeting.
Not so Consuelo. Hands on her hips, she stood and stared at me aggressively. ‘I don’t believe in God; I have nothing to say to you.’ In other words, go away and leave me alone. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘If you do not believe in God, why are you wearing a rosary and a scapular?"
Furious now, she said, "Someone gave them to me, that’s why." And having started, she went on loudly: ‘How do you think I could believe in God? From the time I was a small child my father beat us, drank all the money he earned, never gave us a thing and finally, abandoned us.
‘How do you think I could believe in God? My mother also drank and fought all the time with my father. From the time I was four years old I was out in the streets begging and stealing so as to have food and clothes. No one cared a jot for us.
‘How do you think I could believe in God when my own mother shot herself dead in front of me when I was 11 years old?
‘How do you think I could believe in God when my five brothers and myself are in and out of jails all our lives. Right now all of us are in different jails in Santiago and outside it. Don’t talk to me about God,’ she ended bitterly. She was shaking from the effort of venting her anger.
Her pain at the injustices she suffered was like an iron bar beating her and beating anyone who tried to reach her. No words of mine would mean anything to her. If only I could hold her in a silent embrace, help her to feel that she was precious, valued. But an iron gate was between us. I reached through the bars and held her trembling arm.
Just then a woman from another cell was going out to wash. ‘Madre,’ she said, ‘give me one of the papers you gave to the others. I would like something to read.’ It was a reflection on Jesus and how we might draw closer to him. Some psalms and prayers were given to help the reader.
‘Give me one too,’ Consuelo said, and I gladly handed a leaflet to her. I hoped and prayed she would find it a help in her suffering, that she would be able to open her heart and let the Lord in to heal her many hurts.
‘Maybe we can talk about this when you go back to your section of the prison,’ I said. But she did not answer. She did not know what section of the jail they would send her to as she had had problems with the other prisoners.
Maybe I will lose her amid the 1,300 women in this jail. But I know God will not.
‘THANK YOU’ FROM CARLOS
Before Carlos was released from the men’s prison he asked Sister Angela to thank people who helped him and got a friend to translate his letter from Spanish.
My name is Carlos Triana. I am from Colombia and I have been here for more than six years in Chilean jails. It has been a long hard journey but I can see now a lot of positive things that happened to me since my arrest.
I am 44 years old and for the first time in my life I can look at a clear horizon and know what I want and what I can do. This is thanks to the many benefactors doing good for us and especially for the constant support of Sister Angela McKeever. I met her at the beginning of my reclusion. She has been for me and my mates a person full of kindness and understanding. I say this because it is not only financial support but also spiritual and emotional support.
For all these years I and my mates established different workshops. For example we helped the blind by making abacus, books in Braille, sticks and so on. We also manufactured teaching toys for different foundations.
The workshop is in Colina 1 and I am there with my mates from Chile and Argentina. I am now in a section where we are working on a new project with photographs, printers and pieces of copper. In here, with your support, I learned new jobs that in the future will be my own support. I will be able to get tools and keep going ahead.
I have faith in God that I am going to have the peace that I’ve been searching for in my life. The most important is to get essential love and respect for my fellow creatures, love for my family and for myself.
Once again, in my name and in the name of my mates, I want to give our endless gratitude to all the benefactors who help the Columban Sisters and give us a new opportunity to reintegrate by the right way in society. And our families are also thankful.
I have a new future, very different from what I had when I came to jail.
God be with you and protect you.
Carlos Triana Rodriguez
Sr Angela McKeever has been in Chile since 1976. You may write her at: Casilla 311, SANTIAGO 22, CHILE.