When I began prison ministry I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, aside from working with those convicted of crimes. My last visit was no different. Upon arriving at the prison, I noticed there were more people than normal waiting to enter. As there are many holidays that we do not remember, I was not worried and had permission to enter. I try to use my permission only in the most dire of situations to get in or out but today I was feeling tranquilo (tranquil) and decided it best to wait in line with all the other men instead of walking to the front of the line. After two hours of waiting, I was finally in, still unaware of why there were so many visitors.
As I walked from one gate to another in the prison I noticed a stockpile of propane gas tanks, microwaves, sound equipment, counter stoves, fridges, televisions, and who knows what else. Walking through the gate into general population, Samuel meets me and begins to explain that there was a requisa (search and seizure) in the prison and all of those items were deemed illicit...despite the fact that over time they had been permitted. As Samuel and I chat, he tells me that his shop was searched and torn apart looking for drugs, alcohol, or whatever they could find. The guards were not picky about where they went as they searched every nook and cranny (including taking the sound equipment of the churches-which was eventually returned). When there is a search and seizure the prisoners are not allowed anywhere and remain locked up in their sectors, with limited access to food or water. I was told that on Friday they were not fed breakfast until well after noon and lunch was served to them around 9pm and no dinner. Saturday they were also retained to their sectors and fed breakfast at noon, lunch around 3 and dinner sometime late that night. Sunday, they were also retained to their sectors but around noon were permitted to leave only to find their shops, work areas torn apart and left in absolute disarray and tiendas having been searched and items stolen. I am writing about this because sometimes the injustice in the prisons here is unbelievable.
Yes these men are prisoners, yes they have been convicted of crimes but they are still human and they are still created in the Imago Dei. Numerous friends of mine had their tools stolen as well as personal items; tools they use to make a living while in prison, tools they were permitted to have by the director(s) of the prison. To say that I was confused, mad, and sad all at the same time is an understatement. One thing to understand about prisons here is that finding illicit items is not unusual; as some illicit items are brought in by guards themselves attempting to make some extra money.
Aside from the seizures, some people were transferred to other prisons in the middle of the night. One young mother I know, received a phone call in the early morning from her husband only to find out he had been transferred to another prison three hours away. I was able to talk to her while she was at the prison, collecting what she could of her husbands belongings; he was transferred with only the clothes on his back.
Leaving the prison was just as hard as getting in, as we were told we would not be allowed to leave until 2pm, two hours after our normal exit time. I attempted to leave only to find out my permission had expired on the last day of last year...the same permission that I had been using all year thus far to enter the prison at the main gate. Finally around 3pm was I allowed to leave the prison, still confused and upset at the blatant lack of human rights violations and sad that someone I have known for a while, had been transferred.
Prison ministry is hard, it ebbs and flows, relationships are built and lost as men come and go but these men have become part of me and my heart for Guatemala.
-Please pray with us as I continue to make the name of Jesus known to those who will hear.
-Please pray for the men who are attempting to rehabilitate their lives through faith and by working.
-Please pray as there are rumors of an eventual reprisal against the guards and directors.
-Pray that the government can reduce the amount of corruption within the system.
Yes these are big prayer requests but our God is bigger.
Gerald and Sarah Lastrapes
Along with their two children are missionaries in Guatemala. They will be sharing stories of discipleship through prison and shelter ministries.