You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘prison’ tag.

I went to a prison Thursday that had no prisoners.  Its the third time that I have visited a

jail 2

New large men’s prison next to smaller women’s prison

prison with no prisoners.  The first two times I went to Alcatraz in San Francisco. An old prison closed for many decades.  The one that I went to on Thursday is brand new.  I have been watching its construction for the last three years from where I live, across the highway, at a home for needy children, in Oaxaca, México, where I serve.  I went there with 11 others, also from the mission.

There is a women’s prison next to the new prison.  It has been in operation for about 15 years.  I have been teaching an English class there for over 7 years.  Others involved in  prison ministry from the children’s home were in the group. Enrique, who is in charge of the prison ministry was there, as well as his wife and  Mundo and Linda, who assist him.  Elaine, who teaches art and sewing in prisons was also there with her husband.  Niche, the mission administrator was there with Laura, her assistant.  Two house parents were also there.

This new prison was an impressive structure, expected to house over a thousand prisoners


New cell block which includes a dining room.

who will come from seven different prisons in the state of Oaxaca.  We all went through two security checkpoints before meeting with the prison administration officials.  Then we had the grand tour which included a cell block, one of eight on the property.  The kitchen, which has a bakery and a large place to make lots of tortillas. The medical clinic, which is basically a mini hospital, with 20 beds.  The last room we saw was a morgue, with two beds.  You eventually get out of prison, one way or another. The tour lasted about three and a half hours.

So why did 11 of us go?  We all had a lot of work to do at the children’s home.  It was supposed to be a day off for one of the house parents. What was so important about going to a prison that has not even opened yet?  It was important because we don’t see it as simply a prison.  We see it as an opportunity to make disciples of Christ.  The mission statement of Foundation for His Ministry, is that we exist to glorify God by making disciples of Christ.  We not only want the children at the home to be disciples, but also our neighbors, which will soon include over a thousand incarcerated men.

After the tour, I asked Ceferino , a house father, why he went,especially since it was his day off.  He told me that we will probably have children at the home whose fathers are in prison, and he will need to talk to them.  An opportunity to make disciples.  I went because I plan to teach an English class using Christian curriculum.  Another disciple making opportunity. Naturally, Enrique, Mundo, and Linda went because they will be preaching and teaching the Gospel, and counseling hurting men, pointing them to the healing power of the Savior. More disciples.
So, while many see a new prison in their backyard as a problem or a nuisance, we see it as an opportunity to follow our Lords example, and set the captives free.  Not free from the bars, razor wire and thick concrete walls, but free from lives of desperation, darkness and depression,  to disciples of Christ.




Every Saturday morning I walk across Mexico Highway 190 from the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I volunteer,  to Centro De Intenamiento Feminil De Tanivet, otherwise know as the women’s prison.  Usually I look forward to this time where I teach English class and share the Gospel with incarcerated women.  Sometimes, I admit, I think of other things that I would rather be doing.  On those occasions,  Jesus words from Matthew 25 comes to mind, “I was in prison, and you visited me.”  They become a mantra for me which I repeat over and over.  I see Jesus’ face in the faces of my students, and thinking about each one of them, I repeat the phrase over and over, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

WOMAN in jail


I was in prison and you visited me.

woman in prison1


I was in prison and you visited me.


I was in prison and you visited me.



This last Saturday was one of those days when I thought about all the things I needed to do at the home for needy children, and my mind changed gears from what I wanted to do, to what God wanted me to do for the “least of these” behind bars.  Once again those old, familiar words of Jesus came to mind, “I was in prison and you visited me.”    But that time I thought of those words differently.  Instead of Jesus saying those words to me, I began to say those words to Jesus.  “I was in prison and you visited ME!

I realized that long before I began to “visit Jesus in prison” he had visited me in prison.  I was in a spiritual prison of sin, pride and selfishness.  I was held captive by the world, the flesh and the Devil.  I was a slave to evil desires and the lusts of the flesh.  And then one day, Jesus came to visit.  He not only visited me, but thanks be to God, He set me free!    I was like Peter, bound by chains in the gloomy depths of the jail, and then the chains were broken and an angel guided him to freedom.  I was like the Hebrews in Egypt, tormented by cruel taskmasters, and then they walked to freedom, delivered by a gracious and compassionate God.

The next time I read Matthew 25, I will think differently about Jesus words.  He talked about being hungry and thirsty; being naked and a stranger.  Being sick and in prison.  Before I think about those I help who experience these conditions, I will remember that I too, spiritually speaking, was hungry and thirsty and naked and sick.  I was a stranger to God’s holiness and righteousness.  I was bound by sin and chained to a seemingly hopeless situation.  And then Jesus visited me, and set me free!  Glory hallelujah, Jesus set me free!

What jail cell are you in?  Maybe you are captive to an addiction, depression, anxiety or anger.  Jesus stands outside your cell door knocking.  He wants to come into your hopeless situation and not only visit you, but set you free.  Think about it.  He loves you and wants you to be happy.


jail quote








In my last bog post I wrote about going to the prison across the street and teaching English.  As I was writing a bunch of thoughts came to me, things I thought about writing but that didn’t seem appropriate to that entry.  So here I am to write about life I’m general in that particular prison that I go to every Tuesday afternoon.

First, a little about the history of that prison.  It is a relatively new prison, built about ten years ago.  It was originally built as women’s prison.  When I arrived at FFHMs Home for needy children, in 2005, the new prison across the road had about 12 women incarcerated there.  In 2006-2007, violence and rebellion broke out in the city of Oaxaca,Mexico,  First the teachers union took over the city because their demands weren’t met by the governor of the state, whom they hated. They were soon joined by various communist and radical socialist groups, which plunged the city into turmoil for over a year.  Finally the president of Mexico sent in the troops to rescue the capital city of Oaxaca, and made hundreds of arrests.  The question was, where do we put all these new arrestees?  The answer was at the New, near empty prison just outside of Tlacolula.  The new inmates were landed inside the prison in military helicopters, and the population jumped from 12 to over 200.
Soon after that our mission pastor began making regular trips to the prison, preaching the good news that even though their bodies were behind bars, their spirits could be free.  A few months after that, I began teaching English there.
I mentioned earlier that I am going to write about General life in that prison.  First I am going to write about my general life or experience there and then about what I see or have learned about the inmates General experience living there.
It takes me about 15 minutes to walk from the children’s home to the prison.  Outside the prison is a state police outpost.  The officer on duty wants to see my identification and asks me who I am going to visit.  I tell him I am an English teacher and that I am going to my class.  After all these years most of the police know me and just wave me on.  I proceed to the main gate, arriving about 3 pm.  The prison guards are supposed to start letting the public in at 3pm, but they normally don’t visitors in until 5, 10, or even 15 minutes past the hour.  There are usually a half dozen or so family members waiting to be admitted.  Almost all of the visiting families have a bag or two of food to bring in as well as a big bottle of Coca Cola, Mexico’s unofficial national drink.   At some point the guard will open the huge metal door, and let people in, three at a time.  Finally I am allowed in.  I give my special teacher identification to the guard, and then another guard, almost always a female, goes through my bag to make sure that I am not trying to smuggle in contraband, like weapons, drugs, or photos.  Once my bag is cleared, I need to be cleared.  First they make sure I am wearing the correct clothes.  Black, navy blue and camouflage clothes are not allowed, nor are hats, shorts or erotic clothing. If I am alright in the clothing department, a male guard escorts me into a tiny room and closes the door.  He pats me down, checking for knives, guns or the always dangerous cell phone.  If he decides I’m not a risk to myself or others, he opens another door and I retrieve my bag and make my way to checkpoint number two; Control.
It’s called Control because the two or three guards there control who goes from one side of the prison to the other.  One side consists of prisoners who are still on “trial” (see my last blog).  The other side consists of convicts.  My classroom is on the convict side.  I greet the guards, who always seem to be good natured and are friendly.  Some call me James Bond.  One guard likes to be called after the actor Van Dam.  I ask permission to pass, and ask them to unlock my classroom.  I always stop by to say “hi” to my ex-student Tony.  We both used to live in Santa Cruz, California.
When I get to my classroom, it is almost always locked, so my two or three students and I begin class sitting on a bench outside.  Eventually a guard will show up and we go inside.
The classroom has a huge white board and about 30 desks.  My first class is basic English, and my second class is do advanced students.  We finish about 5:30 and I make my way out of the prison and back to the mission.  Thus, my life at the prison.
The average inmates life at this prison is like nothing you have seen in movies regarding American inmates in American prisons.  In the movies, and in prisons in the U.S., like Alcatraz, there are bars all over the place.  In this Mexican prison, I have never seen any bars, although I have never been to see their cells, which probably have bars.  I have been in a couple Mexican prisons, and they are like little villages.  They elect a president.  They have little kiosks where they make things to sell, like belts, little boats, pictures, wallets, sandals, baskets, and lots and lots of soccer balls (receiving about 80 cents for each ball they sew together).  Some inmates tend gardens, make tacos, sell fruit and vegetables, or cut hair.  Generally there are families eating together and children playing on swings or teeter-totters.  There is a basketball court that also serves as a soccer play area, and there is almost always a spirit game of basketball or soccer going on.  Usually I forget that I  am in a prison,  because the atmosphere is more like the downtown plaza than a prison.  Most of the prisoners have a spouse or children on the outside, so they work at some kind of trade or job and sell their products to fellow prisoners, visitors, or their family members take the products out of the prison to sell.  There is a big wood shop where some inmates make furniture or frames for video games.

They also receive different types of education.  A prisoner who was soon to be released was joking with me that he didn’t want to be released.  Here at prison he was receiving free cooking classes, English classes, a computer course and Tae Kwon Do training.

A few times a year they have special celebrations, parties or fiestas.  When I was there last Tuesday, they were dismantling a circus like tent where they had had a special Mothers Day celebration.  During the Christmas and Easter season, different churches come in and provide meals, music and ministry to the prisoners.  In Mexico they have a Day of the Prisoner, and those confined within the concrete walls receive extra good  food and drink, along with bands playing their favorite tunes.

So there it is, life in a Mexican prison; my life for a few short hours a week, and what the inmates experience for months or years on end.  All things considered, it could be a lot worse.  Thank God for those who visit the imprisoned and help make their stay a lot better – life changing for those who  choose to follow Christ.

****         ****         ****         ****

Next blog – Looking Forward to Going Home

****          ****          ****          ****

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you, yourselves were suffering.  Hebrews 13:3

I was released from prison last Tuesday at 5:43 pm.  A prison guard walked me to the main gate, put his key in the lock,opened the huge metal door and let me out.  I was a free man.  It felt great to be free, to be liberated from the iron bars and concrete walls.  But I was also thinking of the friends that I had left behind.  Bernardo, Aries, Guillermo, Armando, and Marzalino to name a few. I was sad that they were still doing time.  Oh well, I thought, I will be able to encourage them next Tuesday.
Your see, I teach an English class at a prison that is across the highway from Cristo Por Su Mundo, (Christ for the world), home for needy children, where I live with my family, and participate with God in helping “the least of these” as Jesus referred to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world.  These include the children and prisoners that most of humanity forgets about and leaves behind.  Every Tuesday afternoon I walk across the highway and enter a whole new world.  I get to leave after a few hours.  My students, my friends, have to stay.

One day I was walking alone in the hills that surround this mission.  This was about five years ago.  I was talking to God about my life.  I was thanking Him that he allowed me to cooperate with Him at the home for needy children.  I was thinking how fortunate I am to be participating in the Divine Nature that Peter talks about in 2 Peter 1 (see my last blog).  Part of participating with God is to make beauty; to  make the world a more beautiful place everyday, and I am able to do that by planting and maintaining the gardens here at the mission.  But I was thinking, what else could I do?   God, what else do you want me to do?  What else can we cooperate on in helping this hurting world?   Then the verse from Matthew 25, “I was in prison and you did not visit me.”  The words of Jesus on the last day, judgement day, convicting me.

The mission already had a couple of preachers and teachers who would go to  the various prisons in the area to minister in word and song, and I felt like I could and should do something different, to reach out to other prisoners and help them in a way that they could get a sense of  the love of God, without a Bible preacher or teacher.  The idea came to me that I could teach an English class.  Before I came to Mexico, I had never taught English, but I realized that the most important thing about being a teacher of anything, is to simply know more than your students.  So I decided I was qualified and at the request of some people here at the home for needy children, I began teaching English.  That was going well, so now I would be going across the highway to the prison to see if anyone there wanted to learn English.  There was- and I was there to stay, at least for about three hours every Tuesday afternoon.

All my students are great.  I can’t believe any of them have done anything to deserve prison.  I have never asked any of them why they are, or were, there.  I don’t think  it is any of my business.  When I see them, I don’t want to see them as murderers, thieves, rapists, drug dealers or extortionists.  I want to see them as people who were created in the image of God, people who have made mistakes in life, as I have.  People who want to learn English, but more important people who want a friend, people who want to hear the Good News of God’s love, even if it is in the context of an English class.  The students come  and go, both to class and to and from prison.  Two of my students were released, and within months were back in prison, back in my class.  Most have been released and are leading productive lives.

I don’t understand a lot about the Mexican judicial system, but it seems that you are guilty until proven innocent, and you don’t get a trial before a judge.  What happens is you are accused, sent to prison, and then your lawyer writes to the judge, explaining your side of the situation, then the other lawyer answers with a letter, and it goes back and forth like that until the man is declared not guilty and gets out of prison, or is found guilty and continues to live behind bars.  This process can go on for years. There are two sections to this prison; one for people who have been conviction, the other for dozens of men and women who are “on trial” in their cells.   One of my favorite students, a very intelligent man, who speaks remarkably good English, has been in prison for the whole time I have been teaching, waiting for his case to be resolved.

I have had some students who have been in prison in the U.S. and in Mexico.  I ask them what is the major difference.  They tell me that if you are in prison in the U.S., you are probably guilty.  If you are in prison in Mexico, there is a good chance that you are innocent.

The situation for many in prison in Mexico is tragic.  Many prisoners feel helpless, and that their situations are hopeless.  I thank God that He  reaches out to those men and women behind bars and concrete walls, and reaches into their hearts with hope, mercy, love and grace.  While many suffer injustice from the system, they receive joy and peace from God.  While the government says “You are to live incarcerated in prison”  God says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

I thank God that I am free, on the outside and the inside.  I also thank God for setting the captives free; free in spirit; free in heart; free in soul.  Those whom the Son sets free, are free indeed.

*****          *****          *****         *****

Stone walls do  not a  prison  make, Nor iron bars a cage ;

Minds innocent and quiet take that for an heritage;

If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above, enjoy such liberty.

Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), from To Althea, from Prison

*****         *****         *****          *****

Next blog – Life in One Mexican Prison

Why Am I Here?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.