Food For The Poor has paid the fines of 113 inmates in four countries this Holy Week, including the fines of two women in Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre in Portmore, Jamaica, the only female prison on the island.
When the two women were called into the prison warden’s office, they thought they had done something wrong, but instead were told they were free to spend Easter with their families because Food For The Poor had paid their outstanding fines. Tears of disbelief flowed and expressions of gratitude to God and the charity filled the room.
“I prayed for God to provide something new for me and my family, something different for us to start over… a new life,” one of the women said through streaming tears. “I believe, with all my heart that Food For The Poor coming here today to pay my fine, is a direct answer from God. Even last night, I prayed and I said, ‘God, free me please’ and today, I am a free woman.”
In Jamaica, five nonviolent prisoners were released from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, the Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre, Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre and the Black River Police Station. Each was given words of encouragement, a hot meal, personal care items and money for transportation home.
Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Program, which started in 1998, has helped to free, train and to reintroduce nonviolent prisoners back into their communities as productive citizens.
“Over the last 20 years, Food For The Poor has paid the fines of thousands of inmates with the compassionate generosity of our donors,” said Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood. “Many of these men and women are deserving of a second chance, because the crimes committed are considered petty. They spend months, even years, locked away because they cannot afford to pay a fine that would set them free. Some may wonder, is the prison ministry a waste of time? I say no! If only one life is transformed then it was well worth the effort, and that is what God has called us to do.”
In Jamaica alone, more than 7,000 former inmates also have benefited from the “Fresh Start Program” that provides assistance with profitable jobs, such as welding, carpentry and farming. Those newly released are given a source of income and are discouraged from repeating their offenses.
Two young brothers who previously had their fines paid for by Food For The Poor started a car-washing business. The two brothers are doing very well. Food For The Poor-Jamaica staff and even local police officers are some of their most loyal customers. The bothers are very thankful for the second chance they were given.
This year, in Honduras, 22-year-old Jefry, was one of 19 inmates released in time for Easter. Jefry spent nearly seven months in Privados de Libertad Para Conmuta Pastoral Penitenciaria en El Progreso. In September 2017, a policeman caught him smoking marijuana and took him to the police station. He did not have the money to pay the fine of $13,000 Lempiras or $550 U.S. dollars. So, he was arrested and later sent to prison.
Jefry, one of six children, was born in San Pedro Sula. His father had a second family, so Jefry dropped out of school in sixth-grade and started working. His mother wanted him to return to school, but he enjoyed working in the town’s shoe repair store. When his brother Luis was murdered, Jefry said that event “marked his life” because he was very close to his brother. He became depressed and started smoking marijuana to ease his pain.
During his time in prison he reflected on his life. He used the opportunity to learn how to make hammocks and wallets. When he was told he was being released from prison in time for Easter he was grateful.
“I am thankful to Food For The Poor and CEPUDO for the opportunity to regain my freedom, and I also thank God,” said Jefry. “With His blessings He will help me to correct my errors and change my life. I just want to return to the shoe repair shop and do something so that I can help my family economically.”
Each one of the 19 inmates, which included seven women, received toiletries, food and a copy of the Holy Bible.
Life behind bars isn’t supposed to be easy, but for the men and women locked up in Haiti’s prisons it can be especially brutal, since the petty theft criminals are placed in the same cells as rapists and murders.
This Holy Week, Food For The Poor paid the fines of 70 men and 10 women from prisons in Arcahaie, Cabaret, Croix-des-Bouquets, Grande Rivière, Hinche, Fort Dimanche and Fort-Liberté, Haiti.
A woman by the name of Thelimon, 21, spent nearly two and half years in prison because she stole a cell phone. Adelin, 29, a single father of two, stole a goat for food and lived nearly a year in prison. Rochenel, 19, stole a chicken and was imprisoned for six months. Children whose parents cannot afford to pay the fines also can end up in prison with the adults. One young man, 17, was only 12 when he was arrested for stealing a solar-powered light kit. He was finally freed after five years when Food For The Poor paid his fine.
“It’s very hard for many to fully comprehend how crowded and dangerous these prisons are in the countries where we serve,” Mahfood said. “Some are worse than others, but nonviolent prisoners and children, spending years in prison for a petty crime simply because they do not have the money to pay their jail fines is inhumane. We cannot tell a country how to govern, but we can be footstep followers of Christ and help one another whenever we can.”
Eight men and one woman in Guyana were freed on Monday. All expressed gratitude to Mahfood during a telephone conference call, and toward the Food For The Poor-Guyana staff.
David, 24, who was arrested for simple larceny, had a fine of $50,075 Guyanese Dollars or $242 U.S. dollars, money he didn’t have. He almost gave way to tears when he spoke with Mahfood during a telephone conference.
“I am really, really, really happy and I thank you so much,” David said. “This was my first time getting arrested and it will be my last.”
“David, it’s my pleasure because everybody deserves a second chance,” Mahfood said.
Each person was given a Holy Bible, a change of clothes, personal care items, food and money for transportation home.
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 primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance.