Four non-violent inmates freed for Holy Week
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Four Guyanese men were last week Monday freed from prison through the benevolence of the Food For the Poor organisation which has also helped paid the fines for inmates in several other countries to coincide with the religious observance.
The four inmates here two are from the Georgetown Prison, one from the Amsterdam Prison and one from Timehri Prison. The men expressed deep gratitude, thanking the Food For The Poor-Guyana staff for their compassion, the organization said in a release. “I want to thank you all for helping all of us out, and may God bless you in so many ways,” said Uriel who was released from the Amsterdam Prison. Each man was given a Holy Bible, a change of clothes, personal care items, food and a monetary gift for transportation home.
The organization said it is tempting to judge a person who has been arrested and sent to prison. But the punishment does not always fit the crime, especially in the Caribbean and Latin American prisons where overcrowding is a major problem. Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Programme, which started in 1998, has helped to free, train and reintroduce nonviolent prisoners back into their communities as productive citizens during the Christmas and Easter season. This Holy Week, 152 inmates in four countries have been given a second chance. One such inmate is 20-year-old Kenneth of Honduras. He was one of 15 prisoners recently released in the Central American country.
Born in San Pedro Sula, Kenneth says he grew up in a loving home with both parents. He says he was very close with his mom and seven sisters. He loved school and playing sports, especially soccer. When he was 16, he says his mother was in an accident and received an electric shock by high-voltage cables, which has made it difficult for her to walk. By the time he was 17, Kenneth became the man of the house. He says without his father’s support, he got involved with the wrong crowd and began looking for ways to make money to help the family.
Last July, at age 19, Kenneth snatched a gold chain from a man’s neck while attending a cultural festival. He planned on selling it for money, but was caught by police a short time later. “When I was captured by the police I didn’t want to go to jail, but I was forced to face what I had done. I had no right to take the man’s gold chain,” said Kenneth.
Unable to pay his fine, Kenneth was sentenced to five years at the Pastoral Penitenciaria in San Pedro Sula, which turned out to be an unforeseen blessing. Determined to make the most out of his time behind bars, he learned several trades, including sandal-making, shoe repair, candle making and his favorite – furniture making in the woodshop. “I am so grateful for these programs in prison. This experience has changed my life. With God’s blessing, I want to open up my own furniture woodshop,” said Kenneth. “I don’t have any children, but I do have new choices for my life and I am very thankful to God for the people he has placed in my life to help me during this process.”
“Life in prison is not easy nor is it supposed to be, but in the countries where Food For The Poor serves, the prisons can be dangerous and sometimes a deadly environment for inmates and the people working within these crowded facilities. This is why the training and reintroduction of nonviolent prisoners back into the community as productive citizens is so vitally important,” said Robin Mahfood, CEO/President of Food For The Poor. “This organization will never advocate criminal behavior, but it’s a terrible thing for someone to spend years in prison for a petty crime simply because they do not have the money to pay their jail fines.”
The 15 prisoners released in Honduras were given personal care packages and travel expenses. Nine men were freed from the Pastoral Penitenciaria in San Pedro Sula, and five men and one woman from the Privados de Libertad Para Conmuta Penitenciaria in Danli.
In Haiti, prisons located in Cap-Haitien, Fort-Liberté, Hinche and Port-de-Paix agreed to allow Food For The Poor to pay the required fines of 108 nonviolent offenders. The majority of these prisoners were jailed primarily for stealing food or livestock to help care for their families. Desir, 53, a farmer and father of six lives in Cerca-la-Source. He was released on Tuesday after spending more than a year in the prison in Hinche for cow stealing.
“My wife was sick and the doctor required money to admit her at the hospital,” said Desir. “I did not have any money and I stole the cow in order to save the life of my wife.” Joseph, 55, who lives in Cap-Haitian, took vegetables from three different gardens to help feed his family of eight. He said, “I didn’t think I would get arrested and condemned to two years in prison.”
Michel, who was arrested when he was 28 for stealing is now 37 and spent more than nine years in a Fort-Liberté prison. When Fr. Jean Fils informed him that Food For The Poor had paid his fine, freeing him after so many years, he silently stared into the face of the messenger on the other side of the fence, unable to move. Each inmate released in Haiti received a hot meal, a 100-pound bag of rice, personal care items and a monetary gift for transportation home.
“Freedom is often an afterthought, until the day it’s taken away. All of these inmates released this week in time for Easter learned the importance of that. It’s my belief that they don’t want to do anything, no matter the reason that could put them back in prison,” said Mahfood. “Most of these prison fines are a few hundred dollars, but to a person without the means, a few hundred dollars might as well be a million.”
In Jamaica, 25 nonviolent prisoners were released from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, Spanish Town Court and Tamarind Farms in Spanish Town, the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in Portmore and Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre in St. Mary. Each newly released person was greeted by Food For The Poor staff. They all were given words of encouragement, a hot meal, personal care items and money for transportation home. One of the inmates released from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre is a Taxi operator from St. James. He was arrested in early March for failure to pay outstanding traffic tickets. He explained that being in prison was difficult; he has a wife and two young children who depend on him for everything.
“I pleaded for more time to come up with the funds to pay for the tickets, but that was denied so I was arrested. I did not get a chance to say good-bye to my spouse and our children. I think that was the most difficult part about being in prison, not knowing how my family would survive. Many nights I went without sleep because I kept thinking about their welfare,” said the newly released man. “I am feeling good and overwhelmed at this moment. My children will be so happy to see me and I am looking forward to seeing them. Thanks to Food For The Poor for making this possible for me and the other inmates. This was my first time in prison and it certainly will be the last.”

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