The National Penitentiary

For sometime I have wanted to visit the national penitentiary, but was never sure how to go about it. Back in December the son of the one of the ladies that attends our church was arrested. She started visiting her son every week and soon learned all the in's and out's. She invited me to go along and visit her son. I was anxious to go along because I also knew two guys from Las Delicias that had been arrested about a year ago. When we arrived, there were three long lines of people at the entrance waiting to see their loved ones on the other side. Most of them were women. Some of them had husbands, others sons and boyfriends that they were coming to see. The women were rowdy and boisterous, some were weaseling their way ahead of others trying to get to the front of the line. Some of these women no doubt were connected to gangs and organized crime. The penitentiary allows visitors to spend the night at the prison over the weekend so some were prepared to spend all Saturday and leave on Sunday.
Finally at about 8 am soldiers showed up to begin allowing the people to proceed to the next checkpoint. They looked into our bags to see if we were carrying any contraband. Corruption rules at the prison. With the right connections and some money anything goes.
After the soldiers check us through. Everybody walks about a hundred yards or so to the main door to the penitentiary. There they have to pass another inspection and receive a visitors number and pass.
The lines quickly grow at the main gate.
After being handed a small metal plate with my visitors number engraved on it and my arm marked and stamped with my visitors number, I had to step into a small room for a pat down. Once I was cleared I passed on it to the main facility. The prison is divided up into different sections. There is the minimum security area, where criminals are waiting to be processed, and then there is the maximum security where the "big boys" go. There, they only get out of their cells two hours a day, the rest of the time they are locked down. The guys I was going to see were in the minimum security area. Once I reached the gate for their section a guard checked the number marked on my arm with the number engraved on my plate and then waved me on in. This is what it looks like as you enter. The two men in the picture are Rafael and Noel, two guys from Las Delicias. Rafael was arrested for illegal transportation of arms and Noel for breaking and entering.
Inside this "little village" of prisoners are what they call modular. Two story buildings that are filled with dorm halls. Each modular has a prisoner that is the "boss" of that particular modular. He demands money from the prisoners for whatever he wants and for any privileges the prisoners may want. If they don't pay up they usually have to work menial tasks and lose privileges.
In between the modulars are sitting areas, soccer courts, and small streets. The prison also has three or four chapels that are run by different church groups, there are also workshops where prisoners make shoes, belts, hammocks and wood products.
The modulars have wings of dorm halls. Each halls houses about forty or so prisoners. Inside the hall three tier bunks are divided off with thin wood boards creating little rooms for the three prisoners in that bunk. Here is Rafael's room. He sleeps on the very top bunk. If he wants a lower bunk with more privacy and comfort he has to pay the "boss" of his hall. He doesn't have the money so he stays at the top.
Rafael has learned to survive and pay off "the boss" by making and selling hammocks. It was very interesting to see how they weave the different designs by hand into the hammocks. I think he said he makes three or so a week.
This prisoner has been here for 15 years!! He said none of his family has ever come to see him. He pays his "boss" by shining shoes.
Some of the men make wooden hammock chairs. They sell for about $40.
The guys took me all around the complex. It was nothing what I expected. I thought it would be much worse and extremely dangerous. But all the prisoners roam free in this area from 7 am until 4pm. They keep it pretty clean and organized. They even have little gardens with corn and beans growing around the buildings.
Here is a little pond where they grow Tilapia.
Criminals in this complex range from thieves, and murderers, to rapists, drug traffickers and extortionists. In matter of fact just a few weeks ago a serial rapists escaped from this complex. He terrorized parts of Tegucigalpa and attacked several girls. He escaped police on one occasion by slipping into a sewer drain. Weeks later he was captured prowling around in Southern Mexico. 
 Help us pray about starting a ministry in the prison. We have been invited to come and give classes and preach to the prisoners in one of their chapels. We want God's direction. Also pray for Rafael and Noel as they finish out their sentences. They are soon to have their hearings.


wayne said...

We will be praying about this opportunity. I will be sharing this with our church to pray.

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