I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:36
Their scrubs/jumpsuits are red or blue labeling them according to the crimes they were suspected of. Red states that the wearer is a violent offender, a murderer or a kidnapper. The blue wearers are the fighters, the thieves, common crimes in any culture. They all just looked like women to me. Doing hair, sitting in the cell staring, hands up for the bread and butter we passed through the bars.
I have long wanted to visit the women’s prison here in Haiti. The Beltis Bakery opened that door for us. Everyone loves bread, and the overburdened prison system welcomes Heartline folks each week, bearing hundreds of pieces of bread. The Bread of Life comes too. No, wait, He was already there waiting for us to make His presence known.
We passed through the thin corridor of cells littered with water jugs and the stuff of life for the barely living. So much stuff. Makeshift clothes lines with clothes, bras, undies hanging across the crowded space. Thin mats lined the floor without room to walk. 9-10-11 women in a cell created for two. I kept focusing on counting bread and handing it through the bars while fighting a sense of claustrophobia. So many ladies in such a small space. I expected the atmosphere to be hostile, the prisoners angry but it seemed to me like most were resigned and bored. My mind went to the heat of summer and how unbearable this place must be. Panic and suffocation would surely be a constant companion.
I would like to sit with each woman and hear her story. What were the events that brought them here to this miserable place? Did a desperate event bring them here? An injustice? A lifetime of bad choices where right choices were never an option? A fight? A jealousy? A wrong place at the wrong time? Or a lifetime of prison both in and out of jail. Stories need to be heard. The hands that reach through the bars for bread are hurting, lonely, and not heard. This corridor of cells was so loud but is anyone being heard? Days could be filled just holding those hands that grasped the bars and respectfully listening. Would some ladies lie? For sure. But truth always shines forth when love and acceptance are there. When hands are held in a quest for listening.
I sat with an 8 month along pregnant girl and her small belly. She worked as a domestic and was accused of stealing money and thus landed here. The inspector told me pregnant women keep their babies with them for 6 months for breastfeeding once they are born. Born into prison, surrounded by bars and sadness. I’m thankful for the bliss of mother’s milk and the closeness with mom that gives not a care where they are.
The Heartline team is allowed to have a meeting with 20 women a week for a month. Then next month a different group of 20 will break the boredom and join in on a service. Red and blue sat on folding chairs, singing with us and praying with us. One blue gal wiped her face as tears flowed, my heart ached for her. Our team, led by Moise and Vanessa is so respectful and kind. The music was loud with clapping and waving. For a few minutes we were transported from a corner meeting room in a prison to a worship service. For a few minutes we were all free.
I asked how many were mothers. Several raised their hands and we talked about kids with aunties and grandmas. We talked about the love of Jesus and how He is there in their overcrowded cells. The justice system, like everything else in Haiti, is broken and many aren’t getting due process. But we can bring the Savior into the cell, into the misery, into the resignation. He is so very willing to go to prison and He asks His followers to show up there too. Bread is real and fills the belly, hope is real and fills the soul. I saw Jesus in prison yesterday. He’s called the Bread of Life.
Heartline is working to Strengthen Families through job training and job creation. Click here to see how a gift of $25.00 a month can have a powerful impact on lives here in Haiti. Together we can make a difference!