A 17 year-old boy, charged with murder, and currently detained at the Remand Home, Kingtom, in Freetown, has entreated the Prison Ministry of the United Methodist Church to do more for young boys in remand homes.
“The work of the Prison Ministry has helped transform my life in detention. I grew up in a tough social environment where my mind was polluted by bad boys causing me to accept social deviance as a norm”. He revealed that he used to be very violent and was a strong-willed gang star in the slum.
“With the help of the UMC Prison Ministry, in the last couple of years, my life is being transformed through a personal encounter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the redemptive and transforming power”, Sorie said, smiling and looking into the Heavens. We are using his first name in compliance with journalist ethics.
Sorie has spent three years at the Remand Home while on trial, according to facts revealed by sources close to the Remand Home. “Initially, it took months to process my papers to qualify me to appear in court, I have no lawyer to represent me in court. But I have depended on the Holy Spirit which has given me tremendous hope all this while and I’m looking forward to getting out someday” he hoped.
The Remand Home is a temporal and transitional detention centre where juveniles in conflict with the law, await trial, but is a place challenged by lack of basic resources: food, clothing, medication, and formal educational system that can effectively facilitate the transformation pathway for child offenders.
The Prison Ministry of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference has over the years engaged in providing support to inmates through bible studies, counselling, arts and crafts, and pastoral care; mentorship and workbook to juvenile offenders who await trial.
Only recently, the UMC, as part of its usual activities, ministered to juveniles in commemoration of the Day of the African Child and shared food and other relevant gifts for their well-being.
The Prison Ministry is commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 25: 31-46 especially in verse 36 which states that “….I was in prison, and ye visited me…”
In fulfilment of this great scriptural mandate, the Sierra Leone Annual Conference’s Prison Ministry is striving to show Christian love, compassion for prisoners and ex-prisoners in communities through material support, reconciliation, and re-integration.
Olivia Fonnie, the Director for Specialised Ministry to Children and Christian Education, attached to the Remand Home as a volunteer, says the Prison Ministry provided a chance to explore the good that is in the child offenders even though society may have perceived them as bad elements. “The art and crafts work (which now include floral and balloon decorations) is a positive way to engage the inmates to accomplish something they set their minds on. “Our counselling helps child offenders come to terms with their situation and helps them make commitment to improve their lives”. Fonnie said.
In her contribution, Finda Quiwa, a United Methodist Women’s Regional Missionary and co-founder of the ministry said “we do not want these children to go back to prison after their release and get stuck in the cycle of recidivism; we want them to be an agent of change in their communities after their prison experience”.
In a related development, the Prison Ministry is in the process of expanding its programs beyond pastoral care and livelihood initiative. The Ministry is seeking to collaborate with legal experts in the United Methodist Church and outside to request pro-bono legal services to represent vulnerable and poor incarcerated women in court for minor offences that are not commensurate with the punishment they receive.
AdvocAid, a non –governmental women’s right organisation that offers free legal and educational support to inmate at correctional centres is willing to provide paralegal service to volunteers of Prison Ministry, so that they will be equipped to undertake interventions for appropriate referrals.
Simitie Lavaly, Director, AdvocAid, stated that a collaborative effort is a perfect intervention in addressing the many challenges women and girls are faced with in detention.
Missionaries of the Regional Missionary Initiative; Elmira Sellu and Finda Quiwa in collaboration with the Department of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church Sierra Leone Annual Conference started the Prison Ministry in 2013 to promote Christianity within the prison and transform lives to foster rehabilitation and integration into communities.