Sister Act: Nun Helps Ex-Cons Start Over

Friday is the feast day of St. Theresa, the 19th-century French nun whose motto was, "do little things with great love." CBS News correspondent Tracy Smith reports on a living example of that - an American nun also named Theresa. She helps little kids with great results.

There are nuns who live in cloistered solitude. Sister Teresa Fitzgerald isn't one of them. Sister Teresa works with children who, for much of their early lives, only saw their moms a couple of hours a week during visiting hours - at jail.

"I was just moved to think a child was ripped apart from their mom," Teresa said. "The more I talked to the mothers I realize the mothers just needed a chance."

"Hour Children"meets moms in some of the toughest jails in New York. They offer women a fresh start.

"No woman comes out of prison and says 'gee I really want to mess up,'" she said. "They just don't have the skills and they have to learn the skills."

On one block in Queens, Fitzgerald, or "Sister Tesa" as she's called - provides free housing and daycare, and thrift stores where former inmates can work and shop.

"We take everything here, clothing or bling," Teresa said.

Next door to the store, there's computer training and job placement. When Mia Savage was convicted of felony assault, she lost custody of her sons. Hour Children is helping her go to college with hopes of getting her kids back.

One of the main goals is making sure the women don't end up back behind bars. In New York state, more than 30 percent of female ex-convicts get arrested again. But the rate for Hour Children's is only 4 percent.

Three years ago, Kellie Phelan was an inmate at Rikers Island, and seven months pregnant.

"I was I guess what you call a crack head," Phelan said.

Phelan now runs a mentoring program. She said she's a good mom now, thanks to Sister Tesa.

"I want people to admire me and I want to help people they way she's helped me," Phelan said.

Some people might find it a little strange that a nun hangs out with the ex-convicts. But Sister Tesa said, "we're a match made in a heaven!"

Ex-cons and a woman with conviction put children first, by giving moms a second chance.

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  • Tracy Smith

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