Please note the following photos in this blog post were not taken in the prison. They are to illustrate the story we are telling.
When we arrived...
We were all frisked after an hour-long wait in a queue at the main gates to the men and women’s prison on the outskirts of Guatemala city. The women had to wear skirts, I don’t know why, the men wore trousers, as usual. We were also told not to wear any jewelry, carry mobile phones or cameras and only take a small amount of cash and our passports.
After being frisked we then waited in another queue for another hour to go into the women’s prison. Some people came with big bags full of things, which seemed strange as we had been advised not to bring anything. Maybe because we were the only “Gringos” visiting that day. Eventually we were let in and had to answer many questions about where we came from, where we were born and how old we were. I suspect it was so the prison guard could practice his English as all the information is on our passports. He kept them, stamped a mark on our hands and we were frisked again before queuing up again to be let into the prison courtyard.
Sandy on the streets in November 2014 before she went prison
Her past caught up with her...
Sandy had been a street living child and adult. She was abused by her Mum who tried to “sell” Sandy as a way of making money. She freely admits that she did some very bad things to survive on the streets such as extortion and holding up buses. She was heavily into drugs to numb the pain, cold and hunger of street life but Cesar from Time of Rescue was also involved in her life and eventually, after many years of intervention, Sandy had decided to follow Jesus, was very near to coming off the streets and drugs. In January this year there was a big raid of the street living population by the police and army and Sandy, amongst others, was arrested for her past crimes and imprisoned for 6 years the next day. Sandy features in the ‘World of Hope: Nicodemus in Guatemala’ documentary made before she was arrested and imprisoned.
The prison was not what we were expecting at all! There were lots of women and young girls who were offering us different crafts they had made to buy, women cooking food at various stalls dotted around the courtyard, stalls selling toiletries, all in an atmosphere more like a market than a prison. The visitors with the big bags of stuff were bringing in supplies for the inmates to carry on their little businesses.
Helen and Sandy on the streets together before she went to prison
A friend from the streets
Sandy was so pleased to see us! Cesar (Time of Rescue director) had told her we were going to visit but she didn’t know her good friends Helen and Tatty were going to visit too! Helen lived with Sandy on the streets and Tatty is part of a church that works with street living people in the city. Helen recently gave birth to a baby girl but unfortunately the baby had died and before we knew it Sandy was reassuring Helen that even though her baby had died she was still a Mum and always would be. She prayed for her and shared a bible verse with her. We thought we would be comforting Sandy and praying for her but we were so wrong! Sandy went on to explain how her situation was probably for the best. God had got her off the streets at last (she had been so close before being arrested but was finding it hard to take the final step) and completely off drugs. Sandy went on to talk about a bible verse she read the day before that had spoken to her Mark 8:36-38 about how people ask God for help and He gives it but we soon forget about God and start doing bad things again. God wants our hearts even if we sometimes don’t always understand the plans of God. How He may take away things (like our liberty) so we can be in a better place, or allows us to go through a storm but that calm follows Ecclesiasties 2:6.
Sandy has joined the Christian group of women in the prison and spends a good deal of her time studying the bible and praying. She is exercising, doing drama sketches for the other inmates and making plans for her future. Sandy warned Helen that if she did not get off the streets very soon she too may well end up in prison. Sandy is a big character and hopefully will be able to cope with the pressures of her six year sentence but Helen is timid and shy and could well be taken advantage of if she landed up in the same situation as Sandy.
We sat around a table and had some food to eat whilst we chatted with Sandy and gradually many of her new friends joined us and shared with us about why they were in prison. Yolanda (41years) had been there already for 6 years having killed one person and shot and paralised someone else. As she was embroidering a cloth she shared with us that 6 years ago she had been a very angry person. Her father had abused her as a child, she ended up living on the street and eventually became the girlfriend of a local gang leader and drug dealer. Yolanda organized the money for the drug deals in between looking after her 5 children, but one day found herself so angry that she shot her sister and maimed another for life. She said when she had come into prison she received help with her anger issues from a Christian pastor visiting the prison and then 3 years ago she had given her life to Jesus. She said all her anger had gone now and although she missed her children it had been the best thing that God could have done by bringing her to Prison.
Sandy’s sister, who she had not known had existed until just 3 years before, was also in prison with her. Although she believes Sandy may have had something to do with her being there, she said she had forgiven her and they were now using this time to get to know each other!
She could start a business
After Sandy has been in the prison for three months she is allowed to start a business, if she has behaved well. All prisoners have to pay for their bed and the space around it, their food, gas and drinking water so it is essential that Sandy can do this. She is already in debt so she needs to get started very quickly as soon as she can. Nicodemus would like to give her a loan to start her business in prison, and she can then carry this on after she leaves. The Trust has also been in contact with a lawyer who is looking into the possibility that an appeal could be made for Sandy to work outside the prison twice a week. This would be with Time of Rescue just as she was before she was arrested and imprisoned. Please pray this would be possible as she was a valuable member of the team and many of the street living people listened to and respected Sandy. She is qualified by experience at this vital work and a much missed member of the team!
Before we left the prison we all gathered in a big circle and were prayed for by the women inmates and we prayed for them with many tears. There were lots of hugs and expressions of thanks for our visit. We left feeling incredibly blessed, very emotional, and tired but so uplifted by the stories we had heard from the women that day!
Please continue praying for Sandy. God has an amazing plan for her. Her experience and character have already been used to influence many street children’s lives. Her attitude to being in prison is one of an acceptance that she did wrong in the past and knows the forgiveness of God. She wants to get through this time and then serve the poor who live on the streets in Guatemala. She is an incredible young lady and a challenge and great example to us all!
Written by Debbie Welford