Food For The Poor (FFTP) has a Holy Week tradition of paying the fines of non-violent offenders in the Caribbean and Latin America. In these countries, when a parent is imprisoned, it’s even harder for the family to make ends meet with basic needs including shelter and food. The Food For The Poor Prison Ministry Program started in 1998 to help nonviolent offenders who could not afford to pay their fines to get out of prison.
With the help of God and generous supporters, the blessing continued last month as 187 nonviolent offenders from Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica’s prisons found freedom and a second chance.
Many Non-Violent Offenders Deserve a Second Chance
In developing countries, such as Haiti, the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime. Noreus, 32, a husband and father of seven was sent to prison for taking low-hanging fruit to stave off hunger pains.
“The bananas were on my side of the fence of my house, so I decided to take a few to feed my children,” Noreus said. “Unfortunately, the owner was unhappy and called the police and got me arrested. So I had to leave my children at home with their mother, who had difficulty providing for the family alone.”
Noreus served more than two years in the Port de Paix prison for lack of money to pay his fine. He was extremely thankful when he learned he was one of 184 men and women freed during Holy Week in 2019, thanks to the Food For The Poor Prison Ministry Program. Not only were his fines paid, but he was provided with food donations to take home to feed his children.
COVID Brought Additional Challenges for Prisoners
Despite challenges, Food For The Poor was able to keep their Holy Week tradition last year during the pandemic. In Haiti, there were 12,760 reported cases of the virus, but the lingering protests – sparked by people upset with the government over inflation, and food and fuel shortages – were the greatest obstacles. In 2021, 128 nonviolent prisoners that included 121 men and seven women, were freed from nine different prisons.
There are 17 prisons in Haiti, some are better than others, according to the World Prison Brief. The prison in Port de Paix is overcrowded and is in dire need of repair. The inmates and staff have decrepit bedding, the walls are crumbling and its dirt floor kitchen is in very bad shape.
“Life in prison is not easy and, in the countries where Food For The Poor works, prisons can be dangerous and sometimes deadly environments for inmates. It is why the training and reintegration of nonviolent prisoners back into the community as productive citizens is so critical,” Ed Raine, CEO/President of Food For The Poor said. “This organization condemns criminal behavior, but it’s a terrible thing for someone to spend years in prison for a petty crime simply because they cannot afford to pay their jail fines.”
How Can Your Church Get Involved?
Interested in partnering with Food For The Poor in a meaningful way to help those fighting hunger in developing countries? This month, FFTP announced a new program, Seven Saves. It’s a grassroots program for church communities that puts faith into action among your congregation, helping individuals engage with the problem of extreme poverty.
Seven Saves is good for the poor, but also makes good things happen in your church like the shared goals that build community and keep your congregation working together and actively invested in outcomes.
This new initiative is a robust “plug-and-play” initiative that provides you with planning, resources, and church-wide elements with no commitment of church budget.
Learn more about how your church can get involved at SevenSaves.org.