Today we went to visit the prison after church. Our women's group and men's group from the church, about 25 people in total. Our ladies group all gathered their resources together- rice, beans, oil, canned fish. We prepared the meal before church as well as hygiene packs for each of the 150 prisoners. Our men's group bought drinks and we went w money in our pockets for any unseen needs. Our Canadian friends, Elisa and Mark, came and contributed too. They both have a heart to see those unjustly imprisoned provided legal assistance. This was an introduction for them of just how rough the just system, or lack there of, is in Haiti.
In Haiti prison is no cushy place. This is a missionary visit that is a very difficult experience. The prison we came to visit was in Petit Goave, the next town after Grand Goave.The station is dilapidated and rundown, paint peeling off the walls and the smell of urine and sweat fills the air. I can't imagine it's a smell anyone can get used to even after being here a while. Those that land here are in deplorable conditions. There are two cells, maybe rooms that are 12' x 12', and each was holding 73 men. There's no space for all of them to lay down. If one has been in jail a long time more than the others, he may have the privilege of a makeshift hammock tied w a sheet and rope. If others want to have a little rest in it they'd have to pay about $20 US. Many innocent prisoners are here with little hope of being released if they don't have a lawyer or family to fight for them. Most prisoners don't eat every day since families have to bring food for them. Even those who so have family that bring them food may not get to eat much of it since other prisoners take their share. There is no place in the cell for them to relieve themselves, there's no beds let alone a mattress and some don't even have clothing to put on.
We arrived around 1pm and were well received by the policemen on duty. We had to request permission from the court ahead of time, so with our letter of approval it was not difficult to get in. We first visited the prisoners, standing in the corridor of the two cells, gate locked behind us and many arms reaching through the bars towards us. We sang and prayed for them, with many expressing sincere thanks and passing out notes to us with their names and requests for prayer, sandals, money, legal assistance with some even stating the reason that landed them there. We promised them all we would pray for them. Then we served them rice and beans by bowls that were passed by chain into the cells, later accompanied by the hygiene packs. We were even able to have funds to give every prisoner 100 gourds, which is only about $3 US each, but can still help them buy some sandals or crackers.
The visit deeply affected everyone in our group, but most of all Elisa and Mark as well as Jean Sylvio who accompanied us on the trip. Last year he fell into a situation that landed him in one of those cells. In fact, that was the reason for my first prison visit when he was there. He was very somber and reflective and openly shared about his own experience in the prison and his gratitude for the grace of God on his life to be free today.
While we were sitting back after and watching as family and friends brought food in, I was looking around at this seemingly God-forsaken hell hole (excuse the expression), and suddenly a small bird flew right into the station, landed on a table to peck at some dropped pieces of rice, flitted around and then flew away. I was struck by the startling contrast of beauty and freedom against this hopeless backdrop of bondage, as though God was reminding me that no matter how deplorable this situation looked, He is still in control, the Maker of even the birds of the air that are clothed in splendour and do not toil for their food and that He can care for even the least of these prisoners where they are. After all, isn't that the very reason He sent us, to care for the orphan and widow and visit the prisoner in their distress? That is true religion, doing the will of the Father. And if that is a part of what He has called us to as missionaries, I am more than happy to endure the pungent smells and deplorable sights to fulfill His will.
Here's a few photos. We weren't allowed to take any inside, but this is just out front and some of out group after we distributed. Tomorrow we will be sending 150 Bibles too.