SOUTH BEND – Locked up in the St. Joseph County Jail, Markcus Wilson heard stories from other inmates about a benevolent stranger who could help get him out of jail while his case was pending.
It almost seemed too good to be true to the 24-year-old South Bend man, but his uncle confirmed the tale that accompanies a phone number scrawled on the jail wall.
Perhaps the most well-known woman among inmates in the county jail is a good-humored nun with wispy white hair and a folder of court papers that holds dozens of cases at a time.
People kept telling me about her, Wilson told the South Bend Tribune.
Sister Sue Kintzele, of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, is a regular fixture at the jail and the St. Joseph County Courthouse.
She has a pot of recycled money, as she calls it, that she uses to help post part of the bail for inmates whose family members can’t afford the whole amount.
The money pot was once part of a larger bail project local clergy members started in the 1970s, but now, only Sister Sue, as everyone knows her, is left.
The money is still there, and there is still a need for this, Sister Sue said. The main reason most people are in jail is that they don’t have money.
With the help of the clerk’s office, she keeps track of sometimes up to 50 to 70 cases at a time. She never posts the full amount, requiring family members to have at least some financial stake in the case.
She’s the most popular woman in the St. Joseph County Jail, said Maria Kaczmarek, executive director of the Dismas House, which assists people when they are re-entering society from prison or jail.
Sister Sue’s number is etched into the jail walls, but mostly, her work spreads by word of mouth, often through inmates themselves.
I’ve been around for so long, Sister Sue said, smiling on a sunny afternoon at Saint Mary’s College, where she lives.
South Bend defense attorney David Keckley often refers clients to Sister Sue when they can’t make bail, often for minor offenses.
She always responds, conducts interviews, checks out family connections, Keckley said. It works out very well.
The busy nun, who also teaches and is active at Dismas House, has a conversation with each inmate who requests her services. She asks about family life, history and jobs.
She came up to the jail and visited me, Wilson said. Then she gave me half the money.
A judge ordered a $220 cash bond for Wilson when he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor conversion.
Wilson, who lives with his parents, said it would have burdened his family to put down the full amount.
It felt great, Wilson said. She is a nice lady.
The money for Sister Sue’s bail project has stemmed from a variety of sources over the years, mostly through donations.
It’s a rarity, she said, that the bail money she puts up is forfeited because of a defendant not showing up for court. So in nearly all cases, the money she posts eventually returns right back to the pot to benefit future inmates.
I’m not a bounty hunter, Sister Sue said with a laugh.
Through the years, some faces and cases stand out fresh in the memory while others fade, she said. Some inmates are incarcerated over and over. Some are young kids, barely old enough to be in the adult system.
I’ll talk to anybody, Sister Sue said.