In mid-September, the largest prison in the Western Cape reached a severe point of crisis – click here for more information. Pollsmoor has a reputation for being overcrowded and understaffed; and the appalling conditions have escalated out of control. Though most articles focus on the rat infestation, the prisons are plagued by other infectious diseases, including, but not limited to; Scabies, Tuberculosis, Leptospirosis and HIV/AIDS. Thousands of inmates were evacuated, and this had a cascading effect on the other prisons. Many inmates had to be relocated to make space for those being evacuated. This, of course affected our ministry in varying degrees.
Among those relocated was half of the restorative justice class at Goodwood prison. Classes only resumed a month later, and then had to be conducted at two separate centres. In my previous newsletter, one of my outstanding prayer requests was regarding an inmate referred to as D.H. This inmate was not in either of the centres, and after weeks, I finally got information that he was at a smaller centre close by, so I arranged an appointment with him.
In the call of Jesus (Matt 25:36) “I was in prison and you came to me”, it doesn’t say “you taught me, or did a program, or even prayed for me” – just “you came to me”. One of my leaders refers to this as the ‘ministry of presence’. That day, as I met with D.H I was aware more than ever before, how powerful it is to just show up.
Arriving at the prison, I was in pretty bad shape – I have been having severe muscle spasms in my back for the past few weeks, and it was particularly bad that Thursday morning. I just had a ridiculous determination to be there though! As he was escorted by a warder in to the room where I waited, he was shocked to see me and tears trickled down his slightly confused face. Once he was composed enough to speak, he explained that he was starting to harden his heart believing that we were just another group of people that would leave his life, and forget all about him.
That day, he recounted to me his life story, telling me about the time he spent moving from one home to another after his dad’s suicide and mother’s death; about the time he spent living on the streets and his time in and out of prison. All these years of being invisible, and all God asks us to do is just visit – just go. Sit for a while that they might know they were never invisible to God.
It’s because of moments like these that my sacrifices don’t feel like sacrifices at all.