Published: Sunday Gleaner | April 12, 2009
By Huntley Medley, Contributor
'Today is my daughter's seventh birthday and I can't believe that I will be able to spend it with her.'
IMAGINE BEING incarcerated because you couldn't afford to pay a court-imposed fine of a few thousand dollars after being found guilty of a traffic offence. Well, that's precisely the story of several persons now serving time in Jamaican prisons.
One Jamaican walked free from the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre two weeks ago after his fine - reduced to $517 after spending six months in the maximum-security prison - was paid by international charity, Food For the Poor.
Paid fines - Over the past two weeks, Food For the Poor paid fines totalling just over $800,000 to secure the freedom of 23 persons serving time in local prisons. This was part of a release of 69 inmates in Jamaica, Guyana, Haiti and Honduras this Easter.
Since the twice-yearly prisoner-release programme was introduced as part of the organisation's 'Fresh Start prison ministry' in 2000, the charity group has reintroduced 800 non-violent offenders into their communities.
Reflective of Jesus' own resurrection, these former inmates have just about been given life anew, which is the essential aim of Food For the Poor's prisoner-release programme, done at Christmas and Easter every year in the 17 Caribbean countries in which the poverty relief group operates.
"Jesus' resurrection verified all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry," said Robin Mahfood, president and chief executive officer of Food For the Poor." Through His resurrection, all of His people have the ability to begin a new life."
Inmates released - Between March 31 and April 2, 23 inmates from adult correctional centres - St Catherine (12); Richmond (4); Tamarind Farm (3); and one each from Tower Street, South Camp, Fort Augusta, and Horizon Remand Centre - returned home in time to spend Easter with family and friends."
Today is my daughter's seventh birthday and I can't believe that I will be able to spend it with her," said one overjoyed inmate, walking into freedom from the Richmond Park prison in St Mary."
I was not expecting this at all, especially not today, so this is the best birthday gift Food For the Poor could give me to give to her. I am a free man. This is more than words can explain."
He was convicted for possession of and taking steps to export marijuana. When asked why he got involved in drug trafficking, the Montego Bay man said: "I wanted to make some money to start a business - a car wash business - but I got caught."
His sentence was a fine of J$127,000 or one year in prison. He started serving the sentence in October last year.Prison ministry coordinator at Food For the Poor, Sandra Ramsey, said the charity recognises the importance of being with family and friends during Easter and Christmas.
"Some of these inmates are incarcerated for petty offences and because they can't pay the fine they have to do the time," Ramsey said. "The point is that everyone deserves a second chance and Food For the Poor is playing its part in this regard. It a blessing for me each time to do this and to give the inmates a chance to do something positive with their lives."
Imagine the joy of some beneficiaries and their loved ones today, Easter Sunday. "Easter Sunday is an important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. It is beneficial for families to be united on this holy day," Ramsey argued.