Charity Celebrates 20 Years of Freeing Nonviolent Prisoners for Christmas
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Dec. 18, 2018) Since 1998, Food For The Poor has honored the tradition of freeing nonviolent petty crime offenders from Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica's prisons by paying their fines in time for Christmas. This year, 153 former prisoners will be home for the holiday, thanks to generous donors who support the charity's prison ministry.
Skyrocketing violence and unemployment rates have taken root in parts of Central America, placing the plight of the suffering in the national spotlight. Many in the region are having a hard time finding steady work, and in Honduras those without a viable skill are finding life difficult.
Luis, 23, has a son with his girlfriend. He said it's been hard for him to find work. One day last year, his son began to cry because he was hungry and needed dry diapers. Luis said he felt very frustrated because he had no money to buy what his son needed, so he broke into a store, and stole baby milk and diapers.
Luis was caught and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison because he did not have the money to pay the fine of $10,000 lempiras or $412 U.S. dollars. After spending more than a year in prison, he said he's grateful for the second chance given to him after Food For The Poor paid his fine.
"I felt really bad for the people I robbed, I really did," Luis said, "During my time in prison, a priest encouraged me and told me I can do better. I learned how to make bracelets and other things, which motivated me to change my life. I want to thank Food For The Poor and CEPUDO for this opportunity. I look forward to working and taking care of my son."
The program in Honduras has a number of skills training projects to help nonviolent offenders to return to society with a trade to be better equipped to find work. Four men were freed from the Association Paz de Superacion Por Honduras, and six men from the Pastoral Penitenciaria in San Pedro Sula. Each one received toiletries, food and a copy of the Holy Bible upon their release.
In Guyana, Food For The Poor paid the fines of 11 nonviolent prisoners.
Wendell, 38, was arrested and sentenced to six months for stealing a water pump because he felt he was poorly compensated by his employer for the work he had done. His fine, $50,300 Guyanese dollars or $242 U.S. dollars, was too much for him to pay. Wendell spent an additional five and half months in prison until Food For The Poor paid his fine this month.
He was overcome with joy the morning of his release as he expressed gratitude to Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood in a telephone conference from the Food For The Poor-Guyana offices.
"I thank you very much for the grace of the Lord and for looking out for us here, plus a special thank you to Food For The Poor for paying my fine. I do regret what I did because it was wrong," Wendell said. "I want to wish a very Merry Christmas to all."
Devon, 33, also one of the 11 men freed in Guyana, was sentenced to two months for staying in an abandoned house and fined $12,633 Guyanese dollars or $60 U.S. dollars.
"Thank you for paying my fine," Devon said. "All I can say is thank you and I thank God for you."
"For many, $60 doesn't sound like much money for a fine, but when you have nothing and your family has no means to help you, $60 is a lot of money for a destitute person," Mahfood said. "We are thankful to our donors who allow us to help these individuals. Why should anyone spend weeks, months or even years past their sentence for a petty crime because they don't have the money to pay a fine?"
Food For The Poor-Guyana CEO Kent Vincent; Chairman, Paul Chan-A-Sue and acting Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels, offered special prayers for the newly released men. At the conclusion of the ceremony, hampers with loaves of bread, clothing, personal-care items and Bibles were given to the men, along with transportation assistance.
In Haiti, Food For The Poor paid the fines of 121 nonviolent offenders, including the fines of several boys younger than 18, who are kept separate from the adult inmates in Port-au-Prince.
One of those boys, 14-year-old Steeve, spent the past two years living on the streets after becoming an orphan. He would beg for money or food in front of the public markets. One day in September, he stood begging in front of a stand, when a woman accused him of stealing her handbag.
He was beaten by the woman, who then called the police. Steeve said he was wrongly accused, but was arrested anyway. Since he was no one's son, no judge reviewed his case. Amazingly, through the donors of Food For The Poor, the prayer of a boy with no family was answered. Steeve said his freedom is his Christmas gift.
Steeve said one of the first things he's going to do is go to church, because he believes maybe at church he will find his new home, family and his place. He also wants to pray for each donor for their support.
Another boy,11, spent six months in what's known as Cermicol or the children's prison in Port-au-Prince. Feliscar, also an orphan, admitted he stole a cell phone so that he could resell it to care for himself.
Richard, 29, has a wife and three children. One March day, he ran away with fruit from a seller at the public market in Croix-des-Bouquets so he could feed his children. He was arrested and spent nine months in prison until Food For The Poor paid his fine.
In Fort Liberté, there's the story of Gaby, 42, who's married and has four children. He's a brick layer by trade, but with no work available and no money, he stole a few chickens from a coop and sold them to buy food for his family. He was eventually arrested and spent nearly a year in prison.
"We are not here to pass judgment on anyone," Mahfood said. "We believe God has heard their cries for help and is using this organization to answer their prayers. It's a harsh reality, but these people would have remained behind bars into the New Year or possibly even longer, if their fines weren't paid by our donors."
In Jamaica, Food For The Poor paid the fines of 11 nonviolent prisoners, which included two women.
One of the women released from Fort Augusta Adult Correctional Centre shared that many times she would see Food For The Poor come by during the holidays to pay fines for inmates, so her Christmas wish was for Food For The Poor to help her this time around by paying her fine.
"There were nights when I prayed and asked God if He could just send someone to deliver me from this situation, even though I made a bad decision, because I was desperate at the time," said the 31-year-old woman.
On the day of her release, the woman was called to the Superintendent's Office, and after waiting anxiously she was told that Food For The Poor had paid her fines for Christmas. Upon hearing the news, she burst into tears and fell into the arms of Sandra Ramsey, Food For The Poor-Jamaica's Prison Ministry Administrator, who was trying to hold back her own tears.
"I feel extremely glad because my son, who is 15, has been living at a children's home since my incarceration in 2016, and I will finally get a chance to see him," the 31-year-old said, after wiping away tears. "I am feeling very glad because I know it has been hard on him. Thanks a lot to the donors for making the effort to help me, God bless them always so they can help others like myself."
During her two years in prison she become certified in food preparation, and is looking forward to a brighter future and is hopeful she will find work using her new skill.
A 41-year-old inmate from the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, incarcerated for a traffic-related offense, was one of six inmates released from that prison after Food For The Poor paid their jail fines. When he received the good news that he was going home to spend Christmas with his family, he broke down in tears.
"I always see Food For The Poor assisting people in need and I have made contributions before," the man said. "I thank you very much for this gift. I promise you, I won't be coming back here."
Each newly freed person was greeted by Food For The Poor staff who prayed with them. Each person also received a copy of the Holy Bible, a meal, personal care items and traveling money.
"Everyone has a life story to tell, but it's not always easy to hear what they have to say because some of their experiences are tremendously painful," Mahfood said. "For 20 years, the Food For The Poor Prison Ministry Program has helped to transform the lives of thousands of former inmates. We will continue to do so as long as we are needed."
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, FL 33073. Please include reference number "SC# 74122" to ensure your donation is correctly routed, or make an online donation at www.FoodForThePoor.org/prisoners
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, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
954-427-2222 x 6079