Bringing Spiritual Freedom to Those in Prison
“WE HAVE been waiting for you.” “These past few nights, I have dreamed about your coming.” “Thank you for assigning someone to visit us regularly.” “We want to express our gratitude for each and every blessing that we undeservedly receive from Jehovah and his organization and for the spiritual food given at the right time.”
What was the reason for these expressions of gratitude? These are some expressions from inmates confined in different prisons in Mexico. They appreciate the attention they are receiving from Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has brought them spiritual freedom even while in prison. In Mexico there are 42 jails where Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly minister to the spiritual needs of inmates. These places are called Centro Readaptación Social (Social Rehabilitation Center). In some of these prisons, Christian meetings are even being held regularly with very good results. For example, at one recent count, some 380 persons were attending the meetings in these places. At that point an average of 350 Bible studies were being conducted. Thirty-seven had qualified to begin preaching, and 32 had dedicated their lives to Jehovah, symbolizing this by water baptism.
How the Work Is Done
How do Jehovah’s Witnesses carry on their preaching work in these places? First they go to the officials in charge to request written authorization to enter the prison, explaining the purpose of the visits—to teach the prisoners how to improve their quality of life and serve God in a way pleasing to him.
In each case the authorities have given their permission. These officials appreciate the Bible instruction that is being offered to the inmates. The prison authorities have observed that Jehovah’s Witnesses obey the security regulations established for these places. They have allowed these visiting ministers to use offices, dining rooms, and shops to hold their meetings. In one place the Witnesses were even permitted to build a small Kingdom Hall, as shown in the following experience related by a traveling overseer in southeastern Mexico.
“Early in 1991 we began visiting the prison in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, where we found great spiritual hunger. We soon started 27 Bible studies. In view of the interest of the prisoners, five congregation meetings were scheduled. One of the prisoners, who showed great love for Jehovah, decided to build a small Kingdom Hall inside the confine so as to have a place to hold meetings. He went to the prison director and asked for permission, and the authorities were very cooperative. At the beginning of December 1992, six prisoners qualified as publishers of the good news. Because of the progress shown, arrangements were made to hold the Memorial inside the prison. We asked the prison director for permission to bring in the emblems—the bread and the wine—and after a four-hour discussion, permission was given.
“It so happened that on April 3, 1993 (three days before the Memorial celebration), some prisoners were released. When one who was a publisher received his release papers, he asked to speak to the prison director to obtain permission to stay until after the Memorial celebration. This really surprised the director, as this is not a very common request, but in view of the prisoner’s great interest in attending the Memorial there in prison, he granted the request. The Memorial was attended by 53 persons, who shed tears of joy at the end of the program. We have agreed to call this group ‘Freedom Cereso,’ because they are free in a spiritual sense.”
The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is very much appreciated in these places. In one of these penitentiaries, the person in charge openly recommends attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “therapy” for a speedy rehabilitation of inmates.
A Successful Rehabilitation Program
The activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses has resulted in the complete rehabilitation of many prisoners. While it is often true that those who have been in prison return to a life of crime once they are released, those who have truly accepted the message of God’s Word have changed completely. Their transformation reminds us of the words of the apostle Paul: “Neither fornicators . . . , nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
The outstanding change in their personality is evident when they express their feelings. Miguel, who is in the Campeche prison in Campeche City, put it this way: “Today I can say with joy that I count myself among the other sheep who have the hope recorded at 2 Peter 3:13 and Matthew 5:5.” José, who is in the Koben, Campeche prison, commented: “Although I am a prisoner and my crime may be very serious, I understand that Jehovah is very merciful and listens to my prayers and supplications. He can pardon my transgressions and give me the opportunity to spend the rest of my life sharing the good news about the Kingdom of God. Thanks go to our elders for the time they take visiting us in jail so that we may benefit from God’s Kingdom promises. What pleasant blessings! Can I say that I am a prisoner? No, Jehovah has given me the spiritual freedom that I needed.”
What is it that makes murderers, rapists, arsonists, thieves, and others change to become right-living Christians? According to these same men, it is the transforming power of God’s Word and the good association with truly devout people. The case of Tiburcio, confined to the penitentiary in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, illustrates the success of this rehabilitation program. He had been in the jail in Concordia, Sinaloa, where he had problems because of his violent temper. His wife was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he used to treat her very badly, even when she came to visit him in the jail. She was patient and kept coming to visit him, so he asked her to bring him the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, which he began studying by himself.a Then he asked for somebody to come to the jail to study with him. He started to make spiritual progress, and his relations with others began to change for the better. He was transferred to the prison in Mazatlán where there is a group studying the Bible, and now he is a publisher. He comments: “Now, along with my wife and children and my inmate companions, I am very grateful to be able to listen to Bible truths in this place, with the hope that in the near future, I will be released and be able to attend all the assemblies and congregation meetings.”
Also, there is Conrado, who is very grateful for the changes he has been able to make in his life. He had such marital problems that his wife left him. So he sought refuge in drugs. In time he became a drug dealer. He was arrested and sentenced to prison for transporting a shipment of marijuana and cocaine. In prison there was a group studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he was invited to study with them. He expresses his feelings this way: “I was impressed with the orderly way the meetings were conducted, the program of investigation by means of the publications, and the fact that everything was based on the Bible. I immediately asked for a Bible study and began to attend meetings.” That was in January 1993. Now Conrado is out of prison and continues progressing in the Christian congregation.
The Islas Marías
In Mexico there is a dreaded prison consisting of four islands called the Islas Marías. The prisoners can travel about the penal islands on which they are incarcerated. Some live there with their wives and children.
A small congregation has been established. Three brothers from Mazatlán travel there once a month, helping to conduct the meetings, provide literature, and give encouragement. Sometimes the circuit overseer goes over to visit them. The average attendance is between 20 and 25. There are four baptized and two unbaptized publishers. The traveling overseer reports that “some walk 17 kilometers [10 miles] to attend meetings on Sunday and have to leave the meeting in a hurry in order to get back for roll call. Walking quickly, it takes over two hours to get back.” One of the brothers, who learned the truth in that prison, recently said: “I used to be interested in getting out soon, but now it can be whenever Jehovah wills, as in any case I have a lot of work to do here on the inside.”
We are happy to see that the truth is exercising its power to free sincere ones who are looking for a way to please Jehovah. Over a dozen of these, who learned the truth in prison, have been released, got baptized, and now lead honorable lives as God’s servants, some even becoming congregation elders. The power that the Bible has to heal hearts and reform people has been dramatically demonstrated. Once these men who were incarcerated for committing misdeeds enter the path of the light of God’s Word, they experience the true freedom that Jesus promised when he said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:32; Psalm 119:105.
a Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Many benefited from the Christian truths they learned in prison