Sheba went to jail today.
To the Thane jail. The large hulking expanse of a fortress - designed to keep people in rather than repel invaders from outside.
She went along with folks from the Sahaara Charitable Society who have been working in the 4 jails that serve the 18 million people of Mumbai.
Till now Thane jail has only had male inmates. But recently the authorities decided to open a women's section because a number of undertrials had cases in the Thane and Borivali courts - and the constant transportation from the other jails to the courts took so much time.
Sahaara has been working for years with inmates - meeting them and caring for them in various ways. Sheba could see just how good a rapport that Ravi and Sanjeev and Kavita had with the prison authorities. Amid all the guns and bars and doors - the three of them walked with full confidence.
Since the women have just shifted to this facility, the jail authorities asked Sahaara whether they could arrange for a Gynaecologist and a Paediatrician to help out. A number of the women are mothers. Jail rules allow them to have their children with them in their cells till the kids are 5 years old. Then they need to be looked after by family members outside the jail.
So Sheba and Sandhya went to see what it was like.
Well, scary is on thing. So many gates to go through. Seeing men lined up and then hand-cuffed so that they can be taken out to the prison bus which will take them for their hearings. Seeing so many guards - armed and otherwise. A totally different world.
And so Sheba finally met the women. There were about 40 of them. Some had children. They greeted Kavita with joy - since they had met her in their previous prisons - and were now meeting her for the first time here.
All the prisoners have an HIV test done on them. Two of the women were positive. One is a lady from Africa - whose CD4 level is still quite good. The other lady has just found out about her status - and also has a month-old child. The prison officer who was with Sheba and Kavita and Sandhya asked for advice on how to care for the child in order to minimise transmission. They have started providing baby formula - but the mother is still breast-feeding.
Soon it was time to leave.
Back out through the clanging gates. And out of the prison itself. Back to the clinic with a number of challenging cases who came today.
We have a big opportunity and a big decision to take. Do we commit to visiting regularly? There are at least 2 ladies with HIV. Most of the other women will have various health needs. All of them need a friend and a counsellor and someone to give them hope.
Kavita - a simple lady who turned down a government job in favour of serving with Sahaara Charitable Society with the jail ministry - had story after story about how they had seen prisoners changed. About how God had brought hope and new life into hopeless situations.
So many open doors - even where there are bars keeping people in.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
- Hebrews 13.3 NIV