Sister Aline Couture is a warm, compassionate presence among her "boys" at the local penitentiary in Prince-Albert, SK. She prays the rosary with them, teaches them how to follow the mass, and helps them to get involved in the liturgy. When asked about her ministry among the inmates she says: "I feel a part of them... I can't call them inmates; they're my boys! Just being with them is the greatest blessing for me. At first I was a bit afraid, but now it's my second home! They're at ease with me and they feel that I'm part of them."
Sister RéAnne Letourneau is a volunteer with "Friends on the Outside" (FOTO). FOTO is a volunteer group whose mission is to journey with inmates and ex-inmates so that they can encounter a God of love, mercy and forgiveness, enabling them thus to take responsibility for their actions and to live in inner freedom with respect and dignity.
Part of Sister RéAnne's mission with FOTO is to see the child in the people she encounters. She asks herself: "What happened in this person's life to bring them to the point of being behind bars?" Hearing their story helps her to be a Christ-like presence of compassion, instead of a judgmental onlooker. At the same time, Sister RéAnne recognizes that there does come a time in a person's life when he or she needs to make positive and healthy choices in life, and become accountable for his or her actions, despite what has happened in the past. That is part of FOTO's aim, to show these individuals that someone does care, that someone believes in their goodness and that they are not the sum of their mistakes, but that they are the beloved children of God. Building relationships with these people is what enables the healing process, and not only for those who have been behind physical bars.
Consequently, the other part of Sister RéAnne's mission with FOTO has led her to discover the "prisoner" in herself. Sister RéAnne has discovered that looking at her own self and embracing her own brokenness changes how she sees the other, enabling her to stand in solidarity with that person, by simply being a compassionate presence and allowing them to be the same for her. Sr. RéAnne explains emphatically how "it has changed how I see ministry and living the Gospel. It's not so much what I 'do' but the transformation that happens within me as I do it. How powerful it is to experience freedom from my own chains by going inside the prison, meeting the inmates and journeying with them through this experience of liberation in my life. Being a volunteer with Friends on the Outside has been one of the greatest blessings in my life and for this I will always be extremely grateful!"
Finally, while it is true that Sister RéAnne has tried to be the face, hands and heart of God (the Word made flesh) for those she meets, it is actually Jesus who comes to meet her through the inmates and ex-inmates. Thus FOTO's moto based on Matthew 25: "When I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick and in prison you visited me" really demonstrates how prison ministry is a Gospel mandate that leads to encountering Christ in a new way and experiencing deeper inner freedom!