By Gordon Nary
Gordon: What initially inspired you to join the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR)?
Sister Donna: My passion for this ministry and Father Kelly’s invitation to come here and collaborate with other Precious Blood men and women committed to the same work. In addition to the fact that this ministry to those suffering from violence, exclusion and great need is so connected to our Precious Blood Spirituality.
Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities at the PBMR?
Sister Donna: Presence to Mothers who have lost children (sons) to violence, to the streets or to incarceration. Attending to the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional needs of these mothers and their children; Developing and maintaining our Community Peace Garden; Fundraising
Gordon: What are some of the reasons why our young people join gangs in Chicago?
Sister Donna: They want to belong; few young people feel connected to a church, a school or sometimes even to their family……
Gordon: In your opinion. what are some of the initiatives that could help reduce violence in Chicago?
Sister Donna: Helping our youth feel they are valuable and worth our time; valuable in their community, in the world. Providing safe places where our youth can engage in sports, music, and things of interest to them; opportunities to broaden their horizons; opportunities for jobs above all!
Gordon: The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons and jails. In your opinion, what can be done of the federal level to reduce this rate of incarceration?
Sister Donna: Drug laws changed; America’s War on Drugs put large number of no-violent offenders behind bars for years. Mandatory minimums need to be changed and other stringent policies such as those coming from the tough-on-crime mentality. Private prisons give monetary incentive for mass incarceration. The incarceration of the mentally ill and the drug addict certainly increases the mass incarceration. Federal government needs to offer them assistance with their mental illness or drug addiction. Funds are often reduced or eliminated altogether for mental health institutions and/or drug rehab centers
Gordon: Finding employment after release from prison is a major challenge and often the failure to do so can result in reincarceration. Many parishioners in our churches can have an impact on their businesses hiring former prisoners. What can each of us and individual parishes do to help promote our responsibilities to address this challenge?
Sister Donna: I believe it is lack of experience and education plus the media that tarnishes the image of those coming out of our prisons. It would be helpful if people in our churches have a personal experience with a prisoner. Bryan Stevenson in his book, JUST MERCY, talks about the need for “proximity” as a solution to the images we have of people differ from ourselves. Get close to those coming out of prison or those suffering from homelessness, drug addiction, build a relationship, share stories, connect and soon you will be introducing them to businesses where you have a connection.
Gordon: One of the issues that some of us may not reflected on is the impact on children of having a parent incarcerated. How have these children responded to this challenge and how can we help these children?
Sister Donna: Our children are truly the ones affected by long prison sentences for their dads or mothers. These children need to be invited into our churches, our community life, the opportunity of participating in sports, etc. They need a connection, a support system, cared for and invited into celebrations of joy and fun.
We need to find out who they are and how we can help them. Maybe they need transportation to the prison to see their parent; maybe they need some help with school.
Gordon: What has been the responses been by the incarcerated youth to Pope Francis' expression of love to those in our prisons?
Sister Donna: I have not heard directly but I do know how much it meant to youth in the our Cook County Juvenile Detention Center when our Archbishop Cupich spoke to the youth there and told them how important they were to the Church.
Gordon: We are celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 and one of the corporal works of Mercy is to visit the imprisoned. What can parishes do to remind all of us to respond to this expression of mercy?
Sister Donna: Parishioners could have formerly incarcerated persons come and tell their stories. Follow up with discussion….. Encourage parishioners to reach out to those who are different from themselves and make a connection, share stories, reach out to one whom they need to offer mercy and forgiveness or seek mercy and forgiveness.
Critique the media and ask them to change the narratives in regard to people who commit crimes. For instance, often the media will say, after someone was shot and killed, “Oh, he was a known gang member”, like oh, well. That is very hurtful to a mother or other family members.
Encourage parishioners to observer how they speak about people different from themselves/ people in prison, the drug addict, the homeless. “Let Mercy triumph over judgment”!
Gordon: We deeply appreciate your comments and advice on the challenges that we face in meeting our responsibilities to those imprisoned and their families, and some of the ways that we can help address some of these challenges.