This prison is one of the top worst in the entire world. It was built for 2,500 men, and now holds between 9,000 to 11,000 men! There are as little as 100 guards to manage and run the place, so lawlessness and violence are common as guards are forced to leave the prisoners to do as they like to a certain extent. Corruption is the norm, and guards will take bribes from the prisoners with money. Out of the 10,000 prisoners, over 7,000 have never received a sentence or seen a judge. So many are put in here for just petty crimes but then once they are in, they disappear. One young man no more than 18 said he is serving a ten year sentence for a crime he did not commit but was set up by drug smugglers, I believe him.
The auditorium was huge and being filled with prisoners as we set up. We did a number of skits, dances and routines for them and spent time talking and sharing things with them to give them practical help and answers. It makes me so happy to be able to make them laugh hard and to amaze them with a magic routine. I watch them try to figure out how we do our tricks just like little children. It’s like for that period of time we are there, they travel to another world where they can forget everything and be at peace and happy. We do many acts about forgiveness, a second chance and demonstrate that by caring for their fellow inmates, then can make a big difference.
I have a magic routine where I take an empty bag that looks like a jail cell, and from it pull boxes full of flowers. I take a big clothe with a clock painted on it, and from it pull a huge rod, and use these tricks to convey that out of the emptiness of this time they have, they can draw something eternal out.
The director told us how grateful he was and that he had never seen anything like what we did. The head psychiatrist came up to my dad and asked him ever so humbly, how we do what we do saying he feels like he just runs out and has nothing left to give and no real help to give these men. He said he has never seen anyone so fully engage these prisoners and connect on such a personal level.
The second presentation started at two in the afternoon and also went really well. I had made little packets up to give the prisoners and we had some playing cards, candy and beautiful photographs that we printed for them besides reading material, Gospels of John and music cds. I was glad to be able to leave something with them however small it may be. Even a little bracelet made out of cord means a ton to these men.
I watch their faces as they say good bye and line up to be escorted back to the patios and cells and I see sadness return to their eyes. I am leaving, they are not, they have to return to a hard horrible reality, yet I believe that we gave them something eternal, hope, and hope does not disappoint. When we were walking out of the guarded gate, a prisoner with his hands reaching through the bars waves to us and calls out in broken English. As I write this I hear his words echo in my head, “we love you friends, thank you, God bless you, don’t forget us…”