Best present – from prison

As I mentioned before, I volunteered in prisons, mainly in the women’s wing of Central Prison in Lusaka.  Those were some of the best and productive years of my life.  I have never felt that alive again.  I saw a lot of untold suffering there, but I also saw a lot of love and generosity.  People who had nothing would pass would refuse my gifts of food, clothing, etc just so I could give those inmates who were worse off.

I went to visit the women as usual one day and had a great time once again.  At the end of the program, I bade farewell them and started off for the exit when one of the Congolese detainees asked to speak with me.  She was with about six/seven other Congolese women.  She seemed to be the leader and started speaking to me in her native language, which I did not understand.  Another Congolese woman translated and I was amazed at the message.  Apparently, the Congolese women were thanking me for helping them with moving their case.  They had been in detention for months without their embassy’s knowledge.  I informed the embassy about the women and this prompted the embassy to visit them and get their case heard in court.  The result was that the women would be sent back to their homeland of DRC and the were very happy about that.

The leader then said she and the others wanted to give me a present as appreciation of my assistance.  She went to get the present and came back with some vegetables crudely wrapped in a piece of sack.  I have never been so touched as I was at that time.   I had not realized how much my little contributions helped the inmates.  No other vegetables have tasted as good as those prison ones.

I thanked the ladies and went to the prison warders to tell them what had happened.  They said they knew all about it as the Congolese (Congoleses?) had asked for permission first before they talked to me.

I still regularly remember that day with great fondness.

Kadi, the Sierra Leonian inmate

I enjoyed my time visiting and working with prisoners at the Central Prison in Lusaka. I got re-energized by my interaction with them. I found that helping someone less fortunate than myself gave me a lot of satisfaction because I knew that I was making a difference in someone else’s life. Many times, I would arrange for some food stuffs, clothes or medicine to distribute to prisoners. The amount of the items increased when I introduced the ministry to my church.

We found out that arranging for the items was easier than distributing them. The prisoners were undisciplined and would snatch the items from us and then come back for more while weaker ones were left with nothing. The warders did not want to get involved because of the thuggish ways of the prisoners and this happened quite a few times.

In came Kadi, an approximately five feet (152.4 cms) tall inmate from Sierra Leone. Kadi was a very quiet girl and we had hardly noticed her. Well, she came to us one day and asked if she could help us with the distribution. Of course, we agreed and Kadi took charge immediately. She seemed to transform into a dynamo of the authority and yelled at other inmates to stand in line. The latter did not pay attention and were clamoring for the items to be distributed at which time Kadi stood between the goodies and the inmates. She warned them that she would not distribute them unless they listened to her. The inmates quietened down and shuffled into line. Kadi made sure that there was total order and silence before she invited asked us to do the distribution. She stood by our side and ensured that no inmate complained (at least to our face) about preferring a different item. The task went very well and we were actually surprised. This became the routine of doing distributions and we had no problem thereafter.

After Kadi left, we would seek assistance from an inmate/inmates that were tough, either physically or verbally, to help us. I noticed that this system was still in place when I visited the prison last year with my friends from my old church.

What did I learn from Kadi and other inmates that helped us? I learnt that it is OK to enlist the help of one stronger than you in an area that you are weak. Asking for assistance is not a weakness. Instead, it is a weakness to pretend that you are what you are not and mess up in the meanwhile.

Working with Prison Ministry (first posted on another site on may 27)

I volunteered for many years at Central Prison (aka Chimbokaila) in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, where I lived for many years. These were the most satisfying years of my life because I could see the results of my efforts. I started going to prison through Prison Fellowship but later started going on my own. I did not only share the word of God but helped in other practical ways. For instance, I informed embassies that their nationals had been remanded and they would then visit them. I also visited inmates’ homes to check on their families.

In Zambia, children who have just been weaned are given porridge with peanuts for a nutritious meal. Such simple things as giving pounded groundnuts (peanuts) for an incarcerated mother to cook healthy porridge for her baby who was in prison with her, brought so much joy to the mother that it was beyond belief. I can not forget the mother who received the groundnuts, ran to the cooking fire and immediately cooked for her child some ‘fortified’ porridge. It gave me a lot of joy to see the changes, although small, I made in people’s lives.

I did not have much money but the little I could afford to share with the inmates seemed to make a lot of difference and brought me a lot of satisfaction. I miss those years and the interaction I had with the inmates. I will write a few stories of my adventures when doing prison ministry. One unfortunate thing is that I do not have any photos of my time at the prison because it is against rules to take photos. I hope I will be allowed to take photos for memories’ sake one day.

What do you like doing? What gives or gave you the greatest joy doing?

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