The living conditions in Haiti are said to be inhumane. Families are homeless. Children go hungry. The health care is less than lacking. Natural disasters have left an already broken country in even more pain. Recent cholera outbreaks have left the country's residents fearing water and seafood. Can it get any worse?
Yes it can.
Beyond all the inhumanity society sees and hears about in the news is the inhumanity that lies within four inexplicably small walls.
I have had the honor and horror of visiting the Les Cayes prison over the years. The first time I visited, I sat down to write about my experience afterwards, and the words wouldn't come. I couldn't bring myself to recount the inhumanity that lies within those walls. Now, a few years and many visits later, I have found the words.
This is Jah Roro. We have been friends for six years. Jah Roro is like a brother to me. We hung out together, worked together, gave each other advice, and fought like siblings do. Now we see each other with bars in between us and guards above us holding guns. Jah Roro has been incarcerated for over a year.
One person's word against his own. Is he innocent? Not completely. Does he deserve to be locked up for over a year with 41 other cellmates in an 8x12 cell? Definitely not.
There are 443 incarcerated persons in Les Cayes. Right now, 13 of them are under the age of 18 (pictured above). Close to 30 of them are female. If they are lucky, they are only locked up 23 hours a day. If they are lucky, they have family and they may receive more than one small serving a day. If they are lucky, they know why they are in prison, and if they are really lucky, they know when they will be released.
Pwoje Espwa Sud has had a longstanding relationship with the prison. We have established a tailor program for the long-term inmates, providing them with a trade and a pastime while they are in. After the earthquake, we provided 25% of our food program to the inmates since the prison food truck was not making it down to Les Cayes. Over the years we make regular trips to pick up prescriptions given to the inmates for various sicknesses, but have no way of purchasing the medication they need. We have given them mattresses, soap, and clothing. Currently, I am working with the Prison Director to temporarily release an inmate who has been suffering from a hernia for over a year.
Thankfully, because of the relationship Pwoje Espwa has with the prison, I have the rare honor of visiting the inmates whenever I can. Unlike their families, I don't have to wait in an extremely long line on Sunday and Wednesday to talk through a small box for 5 minutes to my loved one.
The question- where do we draw the line between punishment and inhumanity?