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Submitted by Sr. Karen Hartman, who is on a 6-month assignment with Our Lady of Hope Community in Dumaguete City, Philippines. In addition to working with the Associates there, Sr. Karen visits women in jail. Here she shares some of her experiences with the women.

ak 03My first visit to the Dumaguete City Jail was such an unbelievable situation that it was difficult to grasp the whole occurrence. Associate Glenda and her friend Chacha both accompanied me. We met with Assistant Warden Edna before meeting with the women. Since the group is so large—85 women—and meeting space is so limited, Edna suggested that we meet with individual “cells.”  

Each cell has about 20 women, with four cells total. We were told we would meet each week with the women from a different cell and repeat the same program, which is an optional offering for the women. This sounded like a manageable plan, so we agreed to proceed.  

Assistant Warden Edna then invited the women from cell #1 to come to the first program which was on baptism. Nine very enthusiastic women came. I chose baptism as our topic because we were celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus the following Sunday.  

The program consisted of a short, simple presentation on a given topic, small-group discussion on a few prepared reflection questions, and then a report back to the large group. The women listened intently, and we then divided into three small groups. Associate Glenda, Chacha, and Edna served as group leaders, and I sat with Chacha who interpreted for me the responses of the women. All the women understood English, but they find it difficult to answer questions or carry on conversation in English. The small groups and the reports were very lively and filled with stories. I was impressed with the honesty and sincerity with which each woman spoke.  

All the women referred to “before I came here” and admitted that they did not have a relationship with God and now they know God. The women in cell #1 have morning devotions daily at 6:00 a.m. followed by the rosary, and they have recitation of the rosary again at 6:00 p.m. every evening. They all have a Bible and read it regularly.  

One of the women said, “Before I came here, I did not know the mysteries of the rosary.” The women expressed gratitude for being in jail and thank God because “they do not want their children to grow up in the drug culture.” Most of the women are in jail for selling or using drugs. One woman related that when she was a child, she did not like her mother “because she worked abroad and sent money home but was never home” with her children. Now this woman in jail has been restored to a relationship with her mother who is caring for her four grandchildren while the daughter is serving time in jail. This woman cried as she related the story. Many of the woman said they have had a reunion with family members since they are in jail, and they enjoy family visits.  

ak 01During our second visit to the jail, we met with 8 women from cell #2. Again, the women were spirit-filled, eager to hear about being “a beloved daughter of God and that God was well pleased with them” thru the waters of baptism.  

Their stories were also very tearful. Three women were serving time for involvement with drugs and one with gambling. This group of women expressed more fear of God since they did not obey God’s commandments “to do the right thing.” It was an opportunity to speak of the mercy of God and for them to turn to God asking for mercy.  

The woman who was involved with gambling said, “I went to church every Sunday, but did not pay any attention to God while I was there, because I had my cell phone with me and had to keep track of all the gambling numbers and report back to the coordinators.” She herself did not gamble, but her involvement and working with those who do gamble was what put her in jail.

Cell #2 hold their morning devotions at 3:00 a.m. and pray the rosary every evening at 5:30 p.m. One of the women plays the guitar and has organized a women’s choir in this cell. We concluded this meeting with a song that was very meaningful, “A Love Song,” and speaks of God’s undying love for us even when we do not do what is right.  

The differences in how one can minister in the jail setting are so different from what I know from the United States. At first, I was a bit hesitant to mention God or talk about Jesus, but shortly into the first session that “fear” was released, and I could speak with ease.  

Edna the Assistant Warden wishes “that all the women when they leave jail are strong women and know better how to handle situations and to do and teach their children to do the right thing.” The environment at the jail is amazing and a joy and a surprise to see the women smiling, laughing, and talking with each other.  

Next we meet with the ladies in cell #3 when we will repeat the program on baptism and hear the stories of how these women have found God and have turned to God in their desperate need.


Sr. Karem Hartman

Published: March 31, 2016