I volunteer at Rebibbia Women’s Prison Center in Rome. Every month I meet with 190 - 230 prisoners and listen to their stories. Many are foreigners and some visit with me only to get something to write their families with, some stamps and cigarettes. 

I have been meeting with an Albanian, who is a University graduate. After four months of marriage, she discovered that her husband is a drug dealer. She was arrested along with him and will remain incarcerated until her sentencing. She is a delicate, respectful and gentle person, different from some of the rest of the women in jail. A relationship of profound communion has been established with her. She always thanks me for the moments of peace and joy we spend together. 

What follows is a letter of another woman. After 26 years in prison she was granted one special day of leave. 

“Dear Sister Viera, thanking you for spending the day with me outside of jail is really too little. It was truly special to spend a day different from all other days I spend. How did I live it?   

I was curious, intrigued by everything I saw. Talking and relating to other people helped me understand that there are so many things I am unfamiliar with. Life outside is different and there is much I need to learn.  

I assure you that I felt afraid and confused, but also happy. I will have to take on my responsibilities toward society and the people like you who are close to me. I want to “grow,” I want to become more mature and to face life. I trust God and the people who are helping me. 

Yesterday was a “strange” day – it seemed that it would never stop raining and felt like  the rain was cleansing my sins. At times, I felt anxious, but I just looked at you and was reassured. You, Sr. Viera, were there at my side, an angel sent by God. You are a special person and I hope I won’t disappoint you!! 

Thinking about yesterday, I am reminded that when I was little, my Dad never took me to school. My family never celebrated my birthday. You, dear Viera, in one day gave me back my self-esteem.  As you know, I am not a young woman. I am fifty and spent more than half my life in jail. I will have to “walk” by myself, maybe starting by getting an honest job! I would like to conclude this letter by thanking you for your generosity and the gentle human touch you give to people like me who didn’t have an easy life. Thank you, Sr. Viera. I love you.”

I thank God for the ability, energy and love he gives me so that I can become close to these women with the same merciful love that God has and has had for me. This generates compassion and hope, helping the women to live more serenely the days, months and years they spend incarcerated! 
Sr. Viera Farinelli, S.F.P

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