Charity pays fine to free non-violent prisoners for Christmas

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

A 25-year-old man from St Thomas, who was arrested last month for breach of the Copyright Act, will be home for the holidays thanks to Food For The Poor and the generous donors who support the charity’s prison ministry.

The man, who is among 17 non-violent prisoners who were released from prisons in Jamaica, was arrested while allegedly trying to get money to care for his family, which includes his one-year-old daughter.

The former prisoners in Jamaica are in addition to prisoners in Guyana, Haiti and Honduras, whose release from prison was secured by Food For The Poor after the organisation paid their accumulated fines for Christmas. The organisation said in a release yesterday that a total of 261 non-violent prisoners were released under the initiative, a tradition it has honoured for 19 years.

The release said the St Thomas man was charged a fine of $150,000, which is approximately US$1,400.

“I hustle and sell copied movies in the town of St Thomas to provide for my parents and my daughter. While I know that selling movies is illegal, I didn’t see any other way to help my family, so the police caught up with me one day and I was charged for it,” the unidentified man said.

The man also said that being away from his family was a challenge. While in prison, he received a Bible that he said he read every day. Upon learning that he would be released from the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre after his fine was paid by the compassionate donors of Food For The Poor, he was overcome with emotion.

“I am overjoyed right now and I am very grateful for this opportunity,” he said. “If I had just listened to my father in the first place, I would not be here. God answers prayers.”
Each of the 17 newly freed individuals was greeted by Food For The Poor staff who provided them with food, supplies, positive words of encouragement, and travelling money.

The release said this year’s prisoner release is especially meaningful for 18 former inmates in Honduras.

The city of San Pedro Sula, according to the release, is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Some of the most hardened inmates are incarcerated in Honduras, but many arrested for petty crimes are locked up with them because of their inability to pay even modest jail fines.

Denis, 41, was arrested in September 2016 after attending a party in San Pedro Sula. He took a cellphone from another partygoer, and the police were called. Denis, who says he had never done anything like that before, was captured 10 minutes later. The phone was returned, but he was jailed anyway. Unable to pay the fee, one night turned into more than a year with Denis’s fine totalling $10,090 lempiras, which is approximately US$430, too much for the poor carpenter and his family to pay.

“When they informed me that I was going to be released, I thanked God, I felt so happy,” said Denis, a father of three. “I want to thank Food For The Poor and CEPUDO for paying my fine so that I can be set free and reunited with my family. Thank you!”

“We are not here to pass judgement on anyone, nor are we advocating bad behaviour, but it’s not right for a person who commits a petty crime to be locked away with potentially violent inmates,” said Food For The Poor president and CEO Robin Mahfood. “Why should a man’s life or that of his family be ruined because of a petty mistake and their inability to pay a fine?”

Five men and one woman were freed from the Association “Paz” De Superacion Por Honduras, and 12 men from the Pastoral Penitenciaria in San Pedro Sula. Each one received toiletries, food and a copy of the Holy Bible.

Three people, two men and a 20-year-old woman, were freed from Guyana’s prisons in Lusignan and New Amsterdam. The trio was taken to the Food For The Poor-Guyana office where they were fed a simple lunch and given a copy of the Holy Bible, travel money, bags of food, and personal care items.

It has become a tradition for President Mahfood to call the Guyana office to say a few encouraging words to the newly released prisoners and to allow them to express their words of gratitude.

“I want you all to listen to me carefully… please do not do anything that could send you back to prison,” Mahfood said, “It’s not worth going back there, believe me. Make the most of this opportunity given to you by God’s mercy and have a very Merry Christmas.”

From the prisons in Cap-Haitien, Croix-des-Bouquets, Fort-Liberté, Grande Rivière, Hinche, Port-de-Paix, and Titanyen, Haiti, 223 people were expected to be released yesterday.

One man, Dorcine, 23, a farmer from La Victoire, Haiti, was arrested in July for what was described as a misunderstanding over a farm animal. Since he had no money to pay his jail fine, the man ended up spending six months in the Grande Rivière Prison.

“They found me with a goat in my hands and with no evidence, and they arrested me because they claimed that the goat is not mine,” Dorcine said. “They said that they will give it back to me after my release. Thank you Food For The Poor for all the help you are giving us.”

Food For The Poor said it paid the fines and also provided each newly freed person with bags of rice and other items.

According to the release, the Food For The Poor Prison Ministry Programme is helping to transform lives. Since the programme’s inception in 1998, the charity said it has assisted in freeing, training and reintroducing nonviolent prisoners back into their communities as productive citizens twice a year, during the Easter and Christmas seasons.

“To support Food For The Poor’s Prison Ministry Programme, cheques payable to Food For The Poor can be mailed to 6401 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, Fla 33073. Please include reference number “SC# 74122” to ensure your donation is correctly routed, or make an online donation at http://www.FoodForThePoor.org/prisoners,” the release said.

Source: Jamaica Observer

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