Since the inception of Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Program in 1998, Food For The Poor has assisted in freeing, training and reintroducing prisoners back into the community as productive citizens.
Food For The Poor has released 85 nonviolent offenders in Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica in time to spend Holy Week with their families. These prisoners were incarcerated due to their inability to pay the required fines, even though the amounts are minimal. Sometimes by the time they are tried, they have spent years longer in jail than their prison sentence requires.
“Prison conditions and poverty are drastically worse in developing countries than they are in the United States,” said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. “Overcrowded prisons are common, and perpetuate the spread of disease and violence. Through Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry program, we want to help nonviolent offenders make a fresh start.”
In Guyana, it is customary for the nonviolent offenders to call Mahfood when they are released. The men thanked him for helping to rehabilitate them back into society and for restoring their dignity and freedom.
The first thing released prisoner, Andrew, 32, told Mahfood he planned to do was “to look for a job.” When released prisoner Ronald, 40, was asked if he would commit another crime his response was, “No boss. I don’t want to go back to prison.”
Mahfood closed the phone conversations, saying, “I am going to pray for you, and you pray for me.”
“All of them said that they have learned from their mistakes and promised to do better,” wrote Father Duken Augustin to Mahfood after 13 prisoners were released in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on Monday, April 18. “Together we praised the Lord for those who made their release happen.”
Most of the nonviolent offenders released in Haiti were jailed because they stole food to feed their starving families. One man caught stealing food in the marketplace had already served a two-month prison sentence because he was unable to pay the 75 cent fine.
“Words cannot adequately express our great thanks for what you are doing to bring the gospel to life for the least of His children,” wrote Mahfood, after seeing photos of Father Duken kneeling to wash the inmates’ feet before their release.
The Fresh Start Prison Ministry program has assisted in freeing, training, and reintroducing approximately 3,100 people into the community as productive citizens. According to records, approximately 20 of these individuals have returned to a prison in Jamaica and seven have died.
A recent study by the Pew Center concluded about 43 percent of prisoners in the United States who were let out in 2004 were sent back to prison by 2007. In contrast, Food For The Poor-Jamaica’s Fresh Start Prison Ministry program from 2003 to 2010 has less than a 3 percent recidivism rate.
Before the nonviolent offenders are led outside the prison gate renewed with hope, they are prayed with and for, fed a warm meal, given tools, a small stipend and food. Prison authorities have found Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Program to be so successful that they have implemented a similar program themselves. Some prisons now offer inmates jobs in the prison where they are held so that they can earn money to pay off their fines.
Twice a year – the week of Christmas and during Easter’s Holy Week – the Food For The Poor Prison Ministry Program releases inmates who have committed minor offenses. The ministry is based on the scripture, “I was in prison and you visited me,” (Matthew 25: 31-46).
Food For The Poor, the third-largest international relief and development organizationin the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.