The 40-45 women that reside in the less than adequate living conditions of the women’s section of the prison all have a fairly common story. They are awaiting trial for crimes, mostly petty, and don’t have any idea how long they will wait. It’s not uncommon to hear of men or women who sit in prisons for close to a decade for what would amount to a misdemeanor here in the States.
In the jail where we work, there are holes in the roof in a tropical climate and exposed sewage that leaves a stench lingering constantly in the air. Of the women present at the time we counted, they had 133 children total outside the prisons being raised by other relatives.
Since establishing our hub outside Tacloban City, we have been able to develop a consistent relationship with the city’s women’s prison. As we began to offer a program on the ill-effects of drugs this past fall, we first wanted to gain an inmate’s perspective on the drug problem, especially after it has garnered international attention due to the newly elected President’s violent crackdowns on drug users or traffickers.
When I asked Leafa Vagatai, one of the program facilitators about what stuck out to her regarding their perspectives, she commented to me just how much they were all in agreement over what causes a person to begin trafficking or abusing drugs. It was consistent: no one had developed a drug habit from recreational use. It was and is almost always a response to poverty or domestic abuse (for women), desperation of some kind.
Over the month long course, which consisted of awareness of the effects of drug use, group dynamic games that would help the women develop a strong bond and even Bible studies that promoted redemptive and life-giving values, we have been able to progress our relationship with this group of women in need of friendship, direction, and even basic needs.
As we continue to minister to these women, it is our hope to continue offering education that can help them endure and even develop as they rehabilitate and eventually go out to rebuild their lives.
These women need more than a cell to sit in. They need someone to help them understand how life can be different, they need someone to laugh with, to help them develop skills while they wait.
We pray you would consider assisting us this holiday season in giving towards those whom Jesus said deserved visiting – someone to take their time to come and listen, encourage and offer whatever limited helping hand they can. We recognize it’s limited. We also recognize it’s worth it.
As we visit, we bring along educational resources, hygienic supplies, and even food that demonstrates to these women that they are not forgotten, and that the time they have in confinement does not have to be lost.
As we come carrying the things we think could make life (if you can call it that) a little more bearable, they respond with more spirit and life than we could have imagined. Whether sharing in a volleyball game, laughing at hilarious skits together or learning the book of Genesis, these women show us that life is not over, there is hope for another day. Our presence tells them that there is a possibility for mercy, kindness, and forgiveness. There is hope for another day.