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Sister Answers Call of Those in Criminal Justice System

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In October 2022, Dismas House of Indiana honored Sister Susan Kintzele, CSC, for her 45-years of compassionate ministry with individuals in the criminal justice system and her advancement of human rights and restorative justice. A founding member of Dismas House in South Bend, Sister Sue received the first Father Dave T. Link, CSC, Pillar of Change Lifetime Achievement Award.

The following article, detailing her ministry, was originally published in the 2017 Fall/Winter inSpirit magazine.

Sister Susan Kintzele, CSC, has kept up her bail bond ministry for 42 years. In this archival photo, she shares a conversation with a detainee at the St. Joseph County Jail.

Sister Susan Kintzele, CSC, has kept up her bail bond ministry for 42 years. In this archival photo, she shares a conversation with a detainee at the St. Joseph County Jail.

For 42 years, the pot of money managed by Sister Susan Kintzele, CSC, has kept refilling, like a recirculating spring of green. The account is used to help bail out individuals in the St. Joseph County Jail, in South Bend, Indiana. For as long as the fund has existed, Sister Sue, director of the South Bend Bail Bond Project, has thoughtfully tended it—and its recipients—with a commitment that also seems limitless.

Sister Sue regularly devotes herself to a population of people for whom most of society spares little thought. They are typically poor, disadvantaged and underserved, and, living in confinement, they exist beyond the scope of normal, daily life.

She visits with 20 to 40 inmates monthly, listening to their requests, hearing their stories, gathering up pieces of their histories. She works from a list provided by the jail, and answers requests from families looking for help. Detainees also can find her name and number scrawled on the wall by the pay phone. “I’ll talk to anyone,” she says.

In January 2017, the city of South Bend honored Sister Sue during its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, commending her for her dedication, and her “love and respect for humanity.”

A venture in social justice

The Sisters of the Holy Cross educated Sister Sue throughout elementary and high school in nearby Michigan City, Indiana. She attended Saint Mary’s College, in Notre Dame, Indiana, and entered the Congregation in 1959, at the close of her freshman year. She completed her degree, a bachelor’s in mathematics, and took up teaching.

After working as a high school math teacher for nine years, Sister Sue returned to the Congregation’s motherhouse looking to do something different. It was the early 1970s, and at that time a group of Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters were talking about starting a justice and peace center. “That’s when those terms and ideas were just emerging,” Sister Sue says, and the group wanted to do something cooperatively. Her regional superior asked if she would like to represent the sisters on the center’s staff. “I thought, ‘Why not? Who knows where it will go?’”

The group opened the center in downtown South Bend in the early 1970s. As one of its first ministries, the group took ownership of a revived bail bond project that had started during the previous decade. In the bail bond process, individuals can post bail to be released from jail. The arrangement hinges on the contingency that those who are released will appear at an assigned court date, with the bail refunded if they do. The center’s bail bond program—which operated from an existing fund built up from community donations—assisted with bonds without charging a fee, providing help for those who had no other options. When a person showed up in court as promised, the bond was released, and the cash funneled back into the program’s revolving fund. When the center closed in the late 1980s, the staff moved on, except Sister Sue, who began running the program solo.

Maria Kaczmarek, left, former executive director of Dismas, worked for 22 years with Sister Sue and regards her as a mentor.

Maria Kaczmarek, left, former executive director of Dismas, worked for 22 years with Sister Sue and regards her as a mentor.

Weighing situations

Typically, she posts six to 10 bonds a month, putting up $200 to $300 toward the total amount for people whose offenses are most commonly theft, driving under the influence or drug possession. Sometimes, she delays payment when she thinks it’s in a person’s best interest to remain in custody. “I’ll say, ‘Let me see. I don’t think it’ll hurt you to stay here a little while longer.’ And it doesn’t.”

For those with drug addictions, for instance, serving time can help them sober up. “Their families at least know where they are, know they are being taken care of,” Sister Sue says. “They don’t have to worry about getting a call in the night. Jail is not the worst place for everybody; it can be helpful.”

She encourages people to keep in touch when they are out. Some do. Though she admits, “I can’t even say I’d remember all of them.” And only a few times has one of her beneficiaries not made it to court. She reasons that many individuals can do more to help their situation if they’re out of jail. “You can be working, supporting your family,” she says. “You can talk to your attorney more frequently, otherwise you have to wait for them to come see you.”

Maria Kaczmarek, left, with Sister Sue, right. and regards her as a mentor.

Maria Kaczmarek, left, with Sister Sue.

Providing support

Along with managing the fund, Sister Sue also works with people trying to avoid the revolving door of prison. To that end, she serves on the board for Dismas House of South Bend, a group home and re-entry program for people who have been released from prison or those ordered to live there as part of their sentencing, many of whom are also battling addiction.

A group from the United Religious Community of St. Joseph County, which included Sister Sue, opened Dismas House in 1986 after years of conversations with inmates at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. “What we found was that people needed a place to stay once they were released from prison,” she says.

The program provides residents with a safe place to live, as well as clinical support and programs that teach life skills and financial management. In the home setting, says Maria Kaczmarek, who recently retired after 22 years as Dismas’ executive director, residents learn how to accept responsibility and build good relationships. “At Dismas we build community and hold one another accountable for our actions,” adds Maria.

Four nights a week, volunteers from the community— religious, church groups, students, families—prepare a meal for the residents and sit down at the table to share it with them. These interactions help residents understand different lifestyles and cultures and strengthen their ties with the wider South Bend community. Many times, residents hear about job openings or find other helpful resources. Visitors to the home, Maria says, also benefit from these opportunities, “which help people learn about differences and how alike we are as human beings.”

Sister Sue and other board members primarily handle fundraising for the program. They seek out grants, as well as private and corporate donations, and work with Dismas Designs, a social enterprise project led by residents who design and sell their own jewelry to help support the home.

“I don’t think I judge a lot. It’s someone
who needs some help.”

— Sister Susan Kintzele, CSC

The Sisters of the Holy Cross contribute to Dismas annually through the Ministry With the Poor Fund. Monies are applied to women’s programs and essential needs like clothing and personal hygiene items. Specific programs address the effects of living in confinement and help women deal with lingering guilt from letting down their children or families. Dismas also is partnering with Life Treatment Centers in South Bend to develop a customized drug rehabilitation program for its female residents.

Sister Sue’s work at the jail equips her well for her position on the Dismas House Review Committee, which screens applicants for the program and vouches for people who might be successful referrals.

 “I work on the fact that everyone has some good in them,” she adds. “So many people have been told how bad they are, and they believe it. So that’s why they act on that. There is good in everyone, and you have to see that in yourself first.”

To a field of work that is always challenging and sometimes discouraging, Sister Sue brings her good humor along with her good sense, says Maria. The woman she considers her mentor, she adds, is also an attentive listener and skilled negotiator “who serves with compassion and forgiveness.”

Clearly, people count on her for that. “I don’t think I judge a lot. It’s someone who needs some help,” Sister Sue explains.

“I work on the fact that everyone has some good in them,” she adds. “So many people have been told how bad they are, and they believe it. So that’s why they act on that. There is good in everyone, and you have to see that in yourself first.”