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Those who know me well would probably describe me as “steady.” I’m not easily shaken, I don’t have many emotional highs or lows – I’m even-keeled, consistent, and dependable. It’s a good personality for travel, because nothing around you is ever consistent or dependable. I have learned to not let the unknown, the upset plans, the new, or the unfamiliar rock my boat.
I found my resolution shaken, however, when I showed up at a local women’s prison here in Beni, D.R.C. On the second to last day of the lawyer’s conference (which you can read about here), the entire group of one hundred or so law professionals squeezed into a couple of UCBC busses to visit the inmates. Just off of a dusty thoroughfare was an unassuming concrete building with a handful of guards loitering out in front. As we filed out of the bus, they waved us all through, not requiring any documentation or even bothering to check our bags.
We passed through a few rooms, until we entered a small space, with an opening where a door should have been on one side, and another opening where another door should have been on the other. Beyond that opening were ten or so cells. The women were allowed out, but not allowed to cross the threshold between their space and ours. All of the lawyers crowded in, and I had to find a place near the front where I could see. Hearing wasn’t as necessary, as everything was happening in Swahili (of which I speak none), but from facial expressions, I could at least follow a little.
Later, I would find out that the women locked up there were mostly in for fairly serious crimes. I was thankful that the group was able to be there to encourage them, even in the midst of their (theoretically) just punishment. But that wasn’t what shook me.
It wasn’t just women that were in that prison. I wish it had been. There were children – a toddler in a bright pink princess dress, a seven-or-so-year-old boy in a torn shirt and jeans, a brand new baby wrapped in a blanket. At least two of the women were pregnant…
What kind of justice is it to have children who are born in prison? What kind of life is it to spend (at least some of) your childhood behind bars? That baby has only ever known life in jail. I have a hard time reconciling such injustice.
This isn’t only happening here, by any means. This is common practice all around the world. And I’ve known it, intellectually, but I have never seen it, never looked into the eyes of a child who has hopes, dreams, and aspirations but will likely never see those realized. It broke my heart.
The UCBC lawyers didn’t come empty handed – they brought sacks of rice and sugar (the inmates don’t get fed unless someone from the outside brings them food), and I was thankful for their generosity in even thinking about taking up an offering for the prisoners in the first place. I truly saw their hearts shine through – their desire for justice, reconciliation, and peace – and their willingness to go the extra mile to see it in their own country, in their own prisons, with their own people.
For me, at times, the injustices of the world seem too overwhelming to bear, and my tendency is to shut them out. But what I also know is that we are bombarded with all kinds of other trivial things that just don’t matter. I have been challenged here in Congo to decide what will get my attention and what won’t. We do have a choice. We have limited resources of time, energy, money, and talent. We can’t do everything. So we must choose. I choose to let the lives of those children, in that women’s prison in Congo, take some of my resources. I don’t want them to be forgotten.
Until next time,
About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.