Prison Ministry in Jamaica

Fort Augusta PrisonAs we pulled off one of the main highways in Jamaica that, believe me, are not much to talk about, on to a dirt road, so full of pot holes, the bottom of our van was touching, I had a hard time believing this was the road into the largest women’s prison in Jamaica.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, there it was, and what a surprise, it was like the Pirates of the Caribbean all over again.  Straight ahead of us was a fort made of stones, with cannon ports all along the front. It had to have been built in the 1600’s, and would have made an excellent tourist attraction. The old fort did not have an entrance door, only a tunnel that I picture horses and wagons using a hundred years ago.

We parked the van and proceeded on foot, with the chaplain to the front, where a guard was standing next to the tunnel. Before long, a lady guard, on the inside, swung open one of the large steel doors that covered the front of the tunnel. All Four of us volunteers, and the chaplain, headed through the dark stone tunnel. This tunnel was being used as a resting place out of the sun. Two mangy looking dogs, laying lazily against the wall, and two young lady guards sat with their chairs, leaning back, resting on the wall, looking like they were bored to death.  I would guess 8-10 hours in that tunnel would be a long day.

After we came to the end of the tunnel, we turned to our left and walked into a make-shift office, approximately 8×12 in size. The walls were made of chip board and concrete that was unfinished. All that was in the office was a table and a desk, with a lady sitting behind it. Above her head was a large chalk board that showed the number of inmates that were housed in this prison. In white chalk, the first line at the bottom said 161; then on the next line, above it, at 9:00am, it changed to 159; at 10:00am, which was on the third line, it said 157.

While we were waiting to be cleared, a police escort van came quickly through the tunnel with lights flashing. As the van came to the end of the tunnel, five mangy dogs, that badly needed some meat on their bones, were quick to move out of the way. When the van came to a stop, two young ladies, that looked more like girls, were handcuffed together, and taken out of the van, then processed into the prison. The number on the board was changed to 159.

The lady officer behind the desk was given our names by the chaplain. There was no I.D. required, no metal detector to clear; I did not even have to empty my pockets. Then the warden came to meet us, and have us escorted to the chapel. We walked across the dusty gravel yard toward a high fence that ran from one side of the prison to the other and was topped with razor wire.  I could not help but notice all the little shops on the right, which ministry had donated the funds to build.  We walked up to a padlocked door that was a part of the fence; the guard opened it, and let us go through.

When we arrived in the chapel, I was pleasantly surprised.  Although there was no glass in the windows and no air-conditioning, it was nice and clean, with a pleasant breeze blowing softly through it.  The seating was great, with lots of room for everyone. At the front of the chapel was a stage, with seating for the choir. They were all seated in their proper place and ready to start singing.

While I sat waiting for things to get started an older lady, dressed in an old dirty yellow dress, with a yellow bandana that matched, tied over her hair, came in the front entrance and walked slowly through the chapel in kind of a daze. She never stopped or looked up, just kept walking until she went out the back door. Judy saw that I was watching her and told me her sentence had been served for quite some time, but she had nowhere to go. I could not help but feel sadness for her. It was plain to see, if she was not already, she would soon be a senior citizen. There were other ladies carrying their babies in their arms; at this prison if you had a baby while in prison, you were allowed to keep it with you for four months.

The praise and worship started with two of the ladies from the choir. When they stopped singing, there were a few introductions made, and then the choir sang a special song that they had practiced for quite some time.  WOW, I could not believe my ears, the song was so beautiful, you could feel the Holy Spirit all through it. I closed my eyes and felt God.  As I prayed that he would give me what I needed to save a lost soul, I actually forgot I was in a prison for a while, it was like sitting in front of a full choir at some theater or large church.

The service was turned over to us when the choir finished singing, and the same order was used as at all the other prisons, with each one on our team having a chance to share. When I got up to share, I remembered the time when Tony Loeffler asked for forgiveness, as he and I stood in for the men that had abused the women, that  were being treated at an addiction centre. I knew it was God’s will that I do the same for these ladies, s I asked if the other men would join me.  I had no idea what kind of an affect it would have on these two men, they both said, “yes”.

There is something powerful that happens, when you stand in front of eighty women, who you know have been abused by men so bad that words cannot explain the pain, then take the blame on yourself, and ask them for their forgiveness, it not only ministers to the ladies, it also ministers to us men.  One of the men said it was so humbling, that it gave him just a glimpse of what Jesus felt like, when He took the blame for us. The tears that were shed, and the quietness that could almost be heard, were powerful.
When we finished, the silence was broken as the ladies clapped vigorously by way of saying, “You are forgiven”. Then, I shared Jesus’ love, grace, and forgiveness, and twenty-two of these women gave their hearts to Jesus.  Praise the Lord for He is good!

After the service was over, we gave out the books, and prison newspapers. As I was doing this, one of the young ladies that was brought in while we were waiting to be cleared, came to me for prayer.  As I finished the prayer, another came to me for prayer; she was going to court the next day.

There was an older lady that asked Judy for prayer, her fifteen year old son was shot to death two weeks earlier.  (There is a picture to the right showing her with Judy)

This day was so special, and for God to pick me to help in his work sure is a humbling experience.  Be Blessed in Jesus and feel his love.

by Brent Bishop

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