Haiti’s prison system is the most congested of any country in the world, with a formidable 454% occupancy level.
Most incarcerated Haitians have not been convicted of a crime, but are imprisoned during lengthy pretrial detention, frequently for many years. Due to severe overcrowding and malnutrition-related illnesses and other preventable diseases, many Haitians die in prison while waiting to see a judge.
Each week, the Heartline Discipleship and Outreach team ministers at a juvenile prison that holds 370 boys ages 8-18 and a women’s prison with 350 incarcerated individuals. They deliver bread baked at the Heartline Beltis Bakery and lead worship, prayer, and Bible study. The team is focused on developing loving relationships that communicate the love of God through word and deed.
The Discipleship and Outreach team has had the privilege of ministering with 17 year old Johnny over the past two years during his incarceration.
Before being imprisoned, Johnny spent most of his time alone and idle, as his parents left early in the day to sell items in the market and returned late after working. He stopped going to school at a young age because his family couldn’t afford to continue sending him. Johnny says he didn’t have anyone looking out for him and he began spending all of his time with a dangerous group of teenagers who frequently stole things and used drugs together.
After being arrested and imprisoned for drug use, Johnny didn’t see anyone in the legal system – a judge, lawyer, or anyone else – for over a year. No one came to tell him about how long he would be there. When he ended up in jail, his parents said they were cutting ties with him, and no one from his family came to visit him.
Johnny began to feel extremely hopeless during this time. He thought he might be in jail for the rest of his life and then condemned to hell because of the things he had done. He didn’t think there was any chance left for him and concluded that his life was over.
When the Heartline team started ministering at the prison, Johnny often cried during the Bible study and worship time. Johnny said early on, “This might be a stupid question, but I want to ask it anyway. Do you think God can love me anymore?” The Discipleship and Outreach team leader, Moise told him there were no stupid questions and encouraged him to continue asking questions.
Moise told him, “Whatever you have done wrong, Jesus still loves you. Your past doesn’t matter now. You are made in the image of God and He loves you always.”
Moise explained that everyone sins, but that God always forgives us in His abundant mercy. He shared scripture with Johnny, including Romans 3:21-25 and the account of Jesus forgiving the sins of the criminal hanging on a cross next to him. Johnny cried, realizing that his life wasn’t over and that he could have freedom, even while in a prison, and eternal life in Jesus. That day, Johnny accepted Jesus as his savior.
When the Heartline team visits now, Johnny is full of questions and always volunteers to read the passage of scripture for the day. He shares his testimony with other prisoners and leads a prayer time each night with his cellmates.
The prison guards have noticed a dramatic change in Johnny. Before Heartline began ministering at the prison, Johnny was very angry and often physically fighting with other prisoners. He didn’t want to eat and got very sick. The guards say that Johnny now gets along with other inmates, seems more hopeful, and shares the word of God with others. He can usually be found with a Bible in hand.
Johnny is still in prison but has a scheduled release date in the coming months. He is more hopeful for the future, but also afraid of finding himself around the same people making destructive decisions. He wants to find a job so he can support himself. Johnny plans to attend Moise’s church once he is released. The Heartline team will continue to minister with Johnny while he is imprisoned and after his release.