Prison overcrowding is a major problem in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is a dangerous and in some cases deadly environment for inmates and correctional officers working in these facilities.
So it is with even greater determination that Food For The Poor worked this year to free 256 inmates for Easter. As an example of why this work is necessary, 17 inmates in the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown, Guyana, lost their lives and at least eight others were injured after frustrated inmates set fires to protest crowded and unsanitary conditions. According to published reports, the 130 year-old prison was built to hold 450, but at the time of the riot had more than 1,000 people crowded into its cells.
“It’s truly tragic what happened to those men in Guyana, no one deserves to die that way. These prisons in developing countries are being filled to the max with people who are committing petty offenses,” said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. “I understand if a person commits a crime they must face the consequences of their actions, but the majority of these first-time offenders are being locked up with hardcore criminals for weeks, months and even years at a time because they cannot afford to pay the minimal fines for their freedom. It is a Food For The Poor tradition to release nonviolent inmates twice a year, during the Easter and Christmas season.”
Rajesh was one of those inmates in Guyana. Sick and suffering from tuberculosis, he was sentenced to four months in prison. On Monday, Rajesh and three other men were released from the Georgetown prison after Food For The Poor paid their fines for Holy Week. In Rajesh’s case, the charity also provided treatment for his tuberculosis, which he was extremely grateful to receive.
“Thank you very much for your gift of freedom,” said Rajesh, in a phone call with Mahfood. “I feel so much better now and I want to thank you for the treatment I received while in prison.”
Each of the four men were given a Holy Bible, a change of clothes, caps, personal care items, food and a monetary gift as they were released from prison.
For 18 years, Food For The Poor has been paying the fines of nonviolent offenders, freeing them from their prisons twice a year. Thanks to the generosity of the charity’s donors, four men were freed in Guyana, 232 men and women in Haiti, 11 men in Honduras and nine men in Jamaica.
In Haiti, six prisons located in Cap-Haitien, Fort-Liberté, Grande Rivière, Hinche, Port-au-Prince, and Port-de-Paix agreed to allow Food For The Poor to pay its required fines for nonviolent offenders. The majority of these prisoners, which included a few women, were locked up for stealing items such as chickens to feed their families or other items for their daily needs.
“My kids were hungry and I did not have nothing at home to feed them. I went to a public market and I stole a bag of rice and one gallon of oil,” said one prisoner, who was freed from a Cap-Haitien prison. “Thank you Food For The Poor for having me freed today.”
Another, also freed from Cap-Haitien, said “I am Estimé, I stole a goat at Saint Michel because I needed money for my little girl’s tuition at school. Thank you for freeing me.”
“I was coming back from the D.R. after buying goods. At the control point, in Terrier Rouge, they said that I stole two bags of flour, so I was arrested and brought to prison. Thank you Food For The Poor for freedom,” said Tima who was released this week.
Each inmate released this week in Haiti received a hot meal, a 100-pound bag of rice, personal care items, and a monetary gift for transportation home.
In Honduras, some of the prisoners wrote letters of gratitude to Food For The Poor donors explaining the circumstances that led to their imprisonment. Nelson, who was recently released from prison in San Pedro Sula, wrote about being abandoned as a child and the troubles that followed.
The 28 year-old is the oldest of three siblings and says he’s looking forward to helping his family. Nelson also says prison has taught him the importance of freedom and he doesn’t want to return. The 11 released prisoners in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa were provided with care packages and travel expenses.
In Jamaica, nonviolent prisoners were released from Hunts Bay Police Station, and Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston, and the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town. Each newly released person was escorted from their cell to a room, and later to the chapel where they were each greeted by Food For The Poor staff. They also received words of encouragement, a hot meal and personal care items.
“We serve a God who is very merciful,” said Mahfood. “We can only pray that each prisoner who was released will recognize that our Lord is a God of second chances.”
Since the inception of Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Program in 1998, the charity has assisted in freeing, training and reintroducing nonviolent prisoners back into their communities as productive citizens.
To support Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Program, checks payable to Food For The Poor can be mailed to 6401 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, Fla. 33073. Please include reference number “SC# 74122” to ensure your donation is correctly routed.
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 95 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.