Walking with prisoners... walking with the Lord. Two sample stories
Susai Raj, sj (PAT)
[Names of persons have been changed to respect their privacy; all other details are from court and prison records]
Sample story 1 - Shantha Ram
Shantha Ram is accused of rape and murder of Kanchan Kumari, a 8 year old girl, his neighbor in the jhopari-patti (cluster of huts) along the railway track near the Bihar State Secretariat, Patna. The incident took place on 16.12.2007. Ram went absconding, but was arrested on 07.08.2011 and is in Patna central jail since then.
Like many others, initially Ram said that he was falsely implicated in the case; but, when I showed him the copy of case records, including Seizure List of items recovered from his jhopari (hut) such as his voter ID, the undergarment of the deceased girl and the forensic test reports, he became silent. With eyes filled with tears he said, "I don't want to live any longer; I want to die." I put my hand gently on his shoulder. This was around the time when the Delhi High court had confirmed the verdict of the trial court, awarding capital punishment (of hanging till death) to all the five accused in the infamous Nirbhaya case (of barbaric sexual attack on a physiotherapy intern in a moving bus on 16 December 2012 night and her death on 29 December 2012 in a Singapore Hospital - an event which shook the conscience of India); and, a court in Mothihari (East Champaran District in North Bihar) and another court in Uttar Pradesh had similarly awarded capital punishment for rape and murder of a small girl in each case. Ram had read about these judgments in the newspapers.
After sometime of silence, Ram asked me if he too will be awarded the same punishment. I told him that what he did or did not do to Kanchan Kumari is between him and God. Based on the evidence placed before it, the court will decide on his case. Since I am neither God nor the judge in the case, I am no one to pronounce judgment; but, the records of the case, including the statement by the mother of Kanchan Kumari, indicate that his case is indeed moving towards a similar conclusion as that of Nirbhaya and other girls who were raped and murdered.
After some more silence, Ram asked me if I too will stop meeting him once the judgment is delivered and he is put in the isolation cell for prisoners who are awarded capital punishment. I told him that in such a scenario I will try for special permission from the jail authorities to meet him in his cell and if granted permission, I will surely visit him; and, if and when he is led to the gallows, I will walk with him till the last step or door up to which I would have permission to do so. Ram looked deep into my eyes; with eyes welling up with tears but lips twitched in a little smile, he said "Please do that for me." I promised him that to the best of my ability, I will.
During my weekly visits to the prison I met with Ram periodically. He asked for the Bible which I gave; he asked for other religious literature and from time to time I was supplying him with some. As a matter of curiosity to know why he was reading them and/or what he understood from reading these materials, couple of times I asked him what was it that he liked in the Bible or what ideas attract him or help him in reading these materials. He gave me a short reply "I find peace in reading them." I realized that my curiosity in this context was not a good or the right disposition - I knew that God was working in the inner being of Ram, I was sure of that; but, it was none of my business to know how the Lord was working or what He was doing within him, after all it is between him and the Lord. I am called to be an instrument or a medium, nothing more; it is a privilege that the Lord had granted me and I shouldn't contaminate that privilege with my sinful tendency of curiosity.
St. Ignatius has taught us his sons the beautiful prayer: "Give me your love and your grace and I ask for nothing more." The Lord showed me His love by giving me the grace or privilege of 'being with' Ram, in this manner at this stage of his life; I should not ask for anything more. May the Lord purify my inner being as He works to purify the inner being of Ram.
Sample story 2 - Akash Kumar Sonkar
Akash Kumar Sonkar was a successful businessman in Kanpur, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, producing high quality painting and white-washing brushes. But due to some reason he became mentally disturbed and began to wander away here and there. Once he wandered away from home and after two days the family members managed to find him. But when he wandered away in 1999 the family was not able to trace him. On 30 August 2004 he was arrested for unauthorized entry into prohibited Air Force area in Bihta, Patna, Bihar and put in prison.
In 2009 the Prison Ministry India (PMI) volunteers met him in Beur Central prison (Patna) and began attempts to contact the family on the one hand and expedite his case on the other. There was a discrepancy in the address he had given and so tracing family was proving to be difficult. But, God has His / Her own way of looking after the welfare of the least and the lost. In the beginning months of 2011 the family was traced, contacted and it was such a joyful yet unbelievable news for them that he was still alive. They wanted to rush to Patna to meet him, but were advised to hold on. Due to the efforts of PMI, on 10 June 2011 the court acquitted him and the family was informed immediately. When Akash's wife and son were getting ready to take the night train to come to Patna, the 10 year old charming grand-daughter (son's daughter) asked them where they were going? When they told her that they were coming to Patna to fetch her grand-father, she was adamant that she too would join them to meet, welcome and bring her 'dada' (grand-father) back home.
Thus on 11 June 2011 Akash was re-united with his family after 12 years. On seeing his grand-daughter for the first time, Akash lifted her up, kissed her, sat down and putting her on his lap he began to stroke her tender cheeks; and, in return the little girl with her tender fingers stroked the beard of her grand-father. Not only her father and grand-mother, but the PMI volunteers too could not control the tears of joy. The family had brought new clothes for him. After the simple but emotion-filled reunion, the son took his father for a haircut and a clean shave. After a refreshing bath when Akash put on the new clothes, it was indeed difficult to recognize him. The old Akash was gone and a new Akash had emerged. His family disposed off his old clothes in Patna itself because they did not want to carry the sad and painful memories of the past 12 years with them. No words can describe the joy of this family when they experienced that their family has been re-built since the head of the family was back with them. Occasionally Akash calls the up the PMI volunteers to say that he is keeping fine.