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Sister Donna Liette, CPPS, has served at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation for over 11 years. Prior to Chicago, she served for 14 years in Dayton, Ohio, as Executive Director of Mercy Manor, a transitional home for women released from the Ohio prisons. In previous ministerial roles, she as served as a teacher, principal, foster mother, campus minister, and spiritual director. Sister Donna has master’s degrees in Education Administration and in Pastoral Counseling. She is a member of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Dayton, Ohio.
This podcast is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Donna Liette with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on the South Side of Chicago, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation serves young people, families and community members affected by violence and incarceration. Sister Donna, I understand that when you began your ministry there, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, they were working primarily with young men and boys. When did you begin to realize that there was also a great need for outreach to women?
Two attorneys from Northwestern University came to the center shortly after I was there--in fact, I think was the first week--and told me about a young woman who had been sentenced at 15 to life without parole. She was involved in a double homicide, and so at 15 she was sentenced to die in prison. And so these two attorneys said, "Is there anyone here that would be willing to work with her?" Well, I overheard the conversation I said, "Oh, please, I would love to do that." I was thinking, "A woman--yes!" Because that was what I was comfortable with. And so I met Jacqueline very soon after that. And so for these 10 or 11 years, I have been very much a part of her life. And I think because the law was changed, that now, children sentenced to life without parole have been resentenced, and she probably will be getting out of prison in 2025. So she still hopes I'll be hanging around and can receive her coming out of prison.
What is it like to see young people like Jacqueline incarcerated in prison or in juvenile detention centers?
I had, of course, worked a lot with women, adult people in prison, and been in and out of a lot of adult prisons. But I had never been in a juvenile prison. And I went in there and I just was overwhelmed. It's hard to talk about it. There's all these little children, you know, I'm going down this hall, and just pod after pod. They're in these little rooms. Just children. I'm like, Oh, my goodness, they're so little. And they're locked up. And just I said, "This is just definitely not right." So, you know, we still work towards some reform in the juvenile detention center, but it's very long process.
What happens when they're released from the detention center?
Some of those children coming out of the juvenile detention center, many of them would come to our center. So that's one of the works that was being done before I came: trying to help the kids on our streets and in our community to stay out of the juvenile detention center. And then those that did end up in juvenile detention center, we invited them to certainly be a part of our community when they were released.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.