Langata Prison – Part Two
March 6 is an important date for Sarah, an inmate in Langata Prison, maximum security. If you’re reading this and a believer who prays, would you take a moment and write Sarah’s name down in your calendar and cover her with prayer that day, asking that she may be given mercy and released from prison. She will have served an 18 year sentence for a crime that deserved prison. Someone from Crossroads Kenya will be at her review board hearing.
Today Sarah is not the same as the day she arrived at Langata. She has been changed by the love and forgiveness of God. She is a student of Crossroads and has become an assistant inside the prison to Pastor Jefferson. She distributes lessons and collects lessons and has completed all the courses Crossroads has to offer in Tier 1 and Tier 2. Sarah is the only inmate we get to speak to personally and I wish I had been able to give you a video or audiotape of our conversation with this joyful woman. She articulated the impact studying the Bible has on women in prison. Study of God’s Word gives hope in a place that can be hopeless. The lessons have a Roadmap which provides something to do each day and Sarah said that is vital because the women need a daily reminder, daily something to do, daily truth that encourages them. She testifies to how God is authentically changing the hearts and minds of the women who are engaged in God’s Word. Sarah is so thankful to God and to Crossroads.
We didn’t have a long time with the large group of women in the maximum side of the prison. There was enough time for worship and their kind creative clapping that welcomed us. Toddlers played to the side of where we stood, one small girl came and took the hand of Beth as we sang together. In the middle of our introductions and before we were able to pray, the guards required the women to leave the platform, step off to the wide sidewalk and kneel in rows of 4. They were then counted. As unsettling as it was to me, Jefferson came in front of us to explain this is a normal part of their day. It happens often, its part of the security, and it’s not demeaning. We are, after all, in a maximum security prison. No one wants to be there. The children see their mothers kneel. They’re old enough to have seen it often.
Once the women returned, the graduation ceremony began. Many students had completed courses. Some had completed more than one course. And some…well, when their name was read and when that woman didn’t stand, a voice in the crowd called out: “Home.” Again, “Home.” When ‘home’ was repeated, smiling women shook their heads yes. Occasionally they clapped. Each woman has the same hope. Home.
When we finished the women went for lunch though Sarah stayed to speak to us briefly. That is when she shared her witness of how Jesus transforms lives, and requested personal prayer for March 6.
Our team then had lunch that Crossroads provided for the OIC, her deputy, and about fifteen other officers. They shared what languages they spoke, each one at least three: their mother tongue, KiSwahilli and English, often one or two other tribal languages. They shared funny stories and what they did as officers at Langata prison. They asked about Trump and American politics. A few proudly claimed to be from Obama land.
I asked some of the questions that I brought along. There was a nurse officer who worked in the health clinic sitting next to me. She explained that the clinic provides preventative health care, care for minor illnesses and injury, and counseling for inmates, staff and surrounding community members. We discussed the mothers and babies. She shared how the babies received special nutritional food and milk. My questions were about how long the babies stayed there with their mothers and where they went when they left?
At three to four years of age the children go to another relative if that is possible. If a suitable relative isn’t available, the toddlers go to an orphanage. Yes, the now empty-armed mothers show up at the clinic for counseling. Yes, this is difficult for these mothers. Yes, it is best for the children to leave. The OIC mentions a new law about to be passed that will require the babies to go between age 2 – 2/12. I ask if she thinks that is a good law. She shakes her head yes, along with the rest of the group. She explains:
“By the time they are 3 – 4, they begin to understand where they are living. It is not good for them to realize they are in prison. They see way too much. It is imprinted on them. They will never forget. If they leave sooner, they may not remember as much.”
I imagine, that pain for those moms, is far greater than the pain as I felt when my babies went to heaven.
The OIC ends our time together by stating the rarity of gathering with her staff to enjoy a meal together. She enjoyed it, sees the value of this time and hopes for this to happen again soon. And of course she is most thankful. Effusive thanks toward Crossroads Kenya, Crossroads US is expressed here as in each prison we’ve visited.