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Mother Teresa Cheered By Inmates At Medium-Security Prison

DANA KENNEDYJune 4, 1988

CONCORD, Mass. (AP) _ Hundreds of prison inmates cheered, whistled and clapped Saturday as Nobel laureate Mother Teresa told them, ″You are precious to me.″

″It’s very important for you to share that joy of loving - that little smile, some compassion,″ the founder of the Missionaries of Charity religious order told inmates at the medium-security state prison here. ″It will help you stay together and stay beautiful.″

Her more than two-hour visit to the prison included a brief stop with inmates in protective custody, among them Rod Matthews, the 16-year-old Canton youth convicted of killing a classmate.

Mother Teresa, 77, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with the poor. Her missionary order runs 360 shelters around the world staffed by 3,500 nuns, but she brushed aside reporters’ questions about her achievements.

″It’s not my work,″ she said. ″I’m just a little instrument in (God’s) hands.″

She was invited to the state by an inmate at the Walpole maximum-security prison who has been corresponding with her for two years. She was to have a private talk with him later in the day and also visit a women’s prison.

Many of the inmates who attended the Mass at Concord joined in singing hymns and appeared genuinely moved by the service.

″I haven’t seen this much compassion and love in 20 years of corrections work,″ said state Correction Commissioner Michael V. Fair. ″It’s very exciting. This is a great healing day for our department.″

The prisoners were most emotional after Mother Teresa’s 15-minute address, which she ended by telling them: ″I will not forget you. I have you in the palm of my hand. You are precious to me. I love you.″

″I’ve got goose bumps all over my body,″ said inmate Bobby Cowan, 25. ″I never felt anything like it. I could do another 10 years and it wouldn’t bother me because of this.″

Another inmate, Albert Fortin, 25, said: ″I was so touched when she walked through the room. I almost cried, but I didn’t want to in front of a room full of men.″

At a news conference with Cardinal Bernard Law before the Mass, Mother Teresa said the crimes committed by the prisoners do not make them unworthy of love, adding ″we are all sinners.″

″We must accept people who are here and we must help them be at peace while they’re here,″ she said.

Mother Teresa’s visit to the three prisons was prompted by a 47-year-old inmate at the maximum-security prison in Walpole who began corresponding with her two years ago and invited her to visit last fall.

The inmate, Donald Ouimet, is serving an 18- to 20-year sentence for assault and battery. He told reporters that he is a former lay brother in a Capuchin Franciscan monastery.

According to Springfield newspapers, Ouimet and his former wife lured minors to their West Springfield home and sexually assaulted them.

In response to questions about the victims of some of the inmates in the prisons, Mother Teresa said she would ″pray for them.″

″It is hard for the families (of the victims),″ she said. ″I think it’s very hard.″

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