Let me first say, I’m not an author. I’m not a blogger. I do not pride myself on my ability to write, but I was asked to write something about the day I visited Centre de Reeducation des Mineurs en Conflit avec le Loi (CERMICOL), a boy’s prison in Haiti. I will attempt to do that.
I was taught from a young age, just like many American boys, that men don’t cry. I’m not in any way saying my parents raised me wrong, but I deal with emotions like many other American men - I bottle them up.
The night that followed my trip to the boy’s prison, I cried, and then I cried some more. I wept in a way I haven’t wept in a very long time. I cried at the position these boys were in, the hopelessness of the situation, how their entire life is altered. Forever. I cried because if I had been born into poverty, I could have faced a situation that some of these young men faced, made a similar decision, and ended up in a boys prison at age 14.
This could have been me.
I have an 11 year old son. He’s a good kid, but he’s done things that are, well, regrettable. Just like every other kid. I could not help but picture him when I was at the prison. I don’t know the kid's ages, but some were young. Probably 12 or 13 years old.
The boys are locked up for various reasons, I don’t know what each one did, I didn’t care.
I saw children. I saw my son. In a green jump suit with CERMICOL on his back. Hopeless.
Now, I’m far from saying that these boys should not be held responsible. But to see a kid that has been locked up for a crime, and find out some go 2 years before they ever see a judge, that’s heartbreaking. Some of them committed crimes, some terrible crimes, stuff we spoiled Americans only see in TV shows. They do not need to be told that’s ok. They need tough love. They need to be educated. And they need hope.
When we arrived, we unloaded the supplies we brought - rice, sodas, toiletries, a hand written scripture for each boy. Each item was inspected by guards and then loaded into a wheelbarrow. There were 3 prisoners that were pushing the loaded wheelbarrows into the prison. Quite obvious this was their reward for good behavior. Once it was all in, there were a few conversations between guards, some more waiting, and then we got to enter. They escorted us to a room, set up similar to a classroom, with a chalkboard, seating for 30 or so, one door.
There was a large window that opened to the common area. The cells with bars were across from this. We could see the boys. They looked at us, they didn’t look angry, or threatening, they looked like my son. Some were a few years older, but they were young men, trying to find their place in life. While in a holding cell with 125 other prisoners. Hopeless.
The guards ushered in about 40 at a time, 3 groups. The groups came in, we spoke to them. Told them God loved each one of them, that we at Haiti Awake loved each one of them. We prayed. Then they left, back to their cells.
We left, empty handed, sad with the situation, angry thinking the boys may not get a fair shake, disappointed that decisions were made to put them here, but hopeful that some of these young men heard our words. Hopeful they heard us pray for them. Hopeful they heard the message we had for them. Heard that it’s not over. They have decisions to make every day going forward. Maybe as they make one of these decisions, they will think back and remember the Haiti Awake team, and remember some words we shared, or a prayer, or a verse written to them.
Maybe this will be what they need to get through a rough day. Maybe it’ll help them make a good decision in the future.