Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Went to Prison!

Last weekend I had the privilege of visiting the Monrovia Central Prison. I’ll go ahead and tell you, that place was like hell on earth…in terms of the temperature in that place! I don’t have any pictures, sorry—but it was an experience! One of our security guards is involved with Prison Fellowship, so he had been inviting me to go with him on Saturday morning for months. Since Andrew’s dad is involved with Prison Fellowship through Mercy Ships, and our visiting team was interested in going…we loaded up the car and headed down to Monrovia Central. If you ever go to prison, don’t choose this place!

Last Saturday, the prison had 818 prisoners—33 of them were women and 50+ were youth. The prison is built to house about 300 prisoners, so try to imagine how crowded the place is, and think about it being even more crowded! Imagine sleeping standing up, and it being ridiculously hot, and if you’re lucky there’s a bucket in the corner.
Out of the 818 prisoners, 53 of them had an actual trial and conviction, and the rest had not even had a trail yet. Some of these detainees have been in the prison for years and some because they can’t afford the $25USD bail. I saw a small boy (probably about 10 years old) walking around, and I thought maybe his Ma was the cook or something….nope, he was a prisoner…and he was 11 years old! Everyone was in street clothes, well, street rags, and some were locked up, but most were free to walk around. I’m still not sure how they decide who can roam around and who can’t. I will say that I didn’t feel scared or unsafe (more like a white woman walking into a room full of about 800 Liberian men, all wanting me to look at them and say hello and shake their hand). I’m not sure if that’s because there weren’t handcuffs and jumpsuits involved, or if Liberian prisoners are just friendlier. But I showed up thinking there’s no way in heck that I’d volunteer to walk into a prison at home, but the people here weren’t scary.

After I got the full tour, and visited the youth and men’s blocks, I went to the women’s block. The atmosphere between the men’s blocks and the women’s block was totally different. I think a lot of the men had lost hope…you could see it in their eyes…but we tried our best to quickly encourage them and give them a tiny piece of hope. (I’d feel pretty discouraged if I was wrongly put in prison, I had been there for months, had not had a trial, and couldn’t afford the $25USD bail—wouldn’t you?) I walked into the common area for the women and they were seated on wooden benches around the perimeter of the room. The singing, dancing, drumming and sa-sa-ing began! We had a church service…a Liberian church service! The women were happy, and sang with such conviction. Talk about still praising God, despite your circumstances! Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes of singing, I had to leave. I really wanted to talk to the some of the women and hear their stories. Maybe I’ll have the chance to go back sometime. Pray for the people who are wrongly being held in the prison. Pray that justice would prevail, and that people would get a trail…a fair trial. Pray for the ministry of Prison Fellowship—that they would touch the lives of prisoner’s for Christ.

No comments: