By THEO YASAUSE
PRISON is a unique place to celebrate God, says commanding officer of the Bomana Prison Supt Yelly Ouifa.
He was speaking during the recent opening of a three-night crusade at the female wing of the prison. The theme of the event was God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
To host crusades in the night in a prison setting is evidence that God is working in the lives of those who are served and those that are serving.
He said under normal circumstances all prisoners must be locked up at 5.30pm but the fact that the prisoners are outside at night celebrating God is truly a miracle. This can only happen when God is present and because of the distinctive environment.
The above sentiments were also supported by the acting Commissioner of the PNG Correctional Service Steven Pokanis who also announced the lifting of the ban on Leave of Absence for PNG prisons when he closed the three nights’ crusade.
According to Oiufa, when people commit crimes the legal system prosecutes and ultimately incarcerates them. The very foundation of such a sequence of events is meant to degrade the offender and remove any social rights they had while on the outside.
For example, prisoners have this vague notion that they are entitled to basic rights whilst in prison. This concept has outraged law abiding citizens. People are sent to prison because they have commit a crime, something that is considered unacceptable and wrong in society. Therefore they are sent to prison to pay for what they did, to be punished. However, a lot of these prisons are made to be human zoos, some comfortable whilst others are not.
The more glaring thing about the Bomana Prison is because of the spotlight it receives from public scrutiny, from the media and Correctional Services management. More so because of it close proximity to the city and the heart of government.
Oiufa notes that in contemporary PNG, the main goal of prisons is to keep offenders away from the public, to persuade them to never commit a crime again, not to ensure they get them a great life.
Certainly at Bomana we have adjusted our management systems learning from our past and are now adding value to our rehabilitation programmes to make them user-friendly with the involvement of outside stakeholders. This at the end fulfils all the major objectives of containment and rehabilitation in prisons to make our society and community safe and secure.
Many think Bomana is a difficult place to manage because of the convergence of different classes of people from all walks of life. This makes it very unique. We have people from all over PNG and also from outside of PNG who reside inside the prison making it distinctive and very exceptional to manage.
Reason for spiritual awakening
The time for lamentation is over at the female wing. This positive space is created as a result of a shifting in the atmosphere and environment. Both the female wing CS officers and inmates said the spiritual awakening has stimulated behavioural and attitude change in the lives of prisoners.
CS officers Faithlyn Tabaru and Ipak Mollen said the persistent prayers of the inmates at the female wing have paid off.
“The prayers and desire for change has impacted our lives as well. When we feel down and come close to the inmates we feel encouraged, although we are to be the shepherds of this ladies, they project something unique in them, and that is their faith in God given their circumstances,” Tabaru says.
“In the recent past our attitude towards the female inmates has been harsh and oppressive as that’s how prisons have to be and managed. But we think that we must do some things differently given our peculiar circumstances,” she adds.
At present, many of the ladies that come into the prison come from different classes so we must adjust our management systems.
“Many come from Christian backgrounds and godly homes but just lost touched somewhere and being in prison makes them rethink and rekindles the fire to desire God in the special time of need,” That is the common feature at present, says Corporal Kipak Mollen.
“But we also have others who have special needs and require much assistance and through spiritual programmes they are able to read and write particularly for those who are illiterate.”
Corporal Mollen adds that more spiritual programmes should be encouraged where inmates can go out and share the gospel outside of the prison settings because of the revival and spiritual growth of inmates. She said when her husband and family were in need after the passing of her eldest son, God used the female wing Inmates to minister to her family in a way she has never seen, and this has transformed her entire family spiritually. The whole family is now supporting these programmes in and out of the prison. God is indeed a God of transformation.
Female inmates, Ethel Kila, Joyce Moripi and Tracy Tiran spoke of their experiences in desiring God. Their testimonies are truly representative of the current state of affairs and proposes a way forward for consideration. The trio were asked: What was your experience with God before prison, during prison and how do you see you life after prison?
Ethel Kila who is also the Sunday leader for the ladies’ worship services, says God is unveiling something unique for Bomana Prison. There is spiritual awakening both for the inmate and female officers.
“There is a dramatic shifting in the spirit to bring peace and unity amongst the body of Christ. We worship together, and work together, and see growth in every person’s relationship with God in prayer, in singing and sharing of love and care for one another.
“My experiences outside the prison and inside are very different. When I was outside, I was a busy body; I had not much time for prayer, worship and reading the word. Since I came into the prison, I saw my spiritual life change dramatically. I’m focused and know my purpose and God’s plan is becoming clearer now than when I was outside.
‘My husband and I started a family ministry sometime back called the Heart of Peace at Gerehu United Church. This is a collection of street kids some of who are orphans, to provide them love and care. They are brought together to perform in dance and drama to spread the Gospel. I can now see where my purpose and plan in life is more clearly whilst in prison. They will be performing throughout the female wing crusade under the guidance of my beloved husband.
“The spiritual change is now translated in the way CS officers are treating us here at the female wing. There is a gradual shift as well in the way things are done; both the OIC and station in-charge and other officers are receptive to Gods move. The change in management and gradual shift.
“God is at work. It’s a miracle also to be able to worship in the night with outsiders and male counterparts.”
Joyce Moripi: My experience is a difficult one. It’s either my way or no way. I don’t follow others. When I was outside I had no time for God. I’m either too tired or too drunk to go to church or touch the Bible, let alone pray. I had too many other commitments to pay any close attention God. Coming into the prison, had far-reaching positive outcome to me personally. I have matured and have more time for God than usual. I pray a lot and sing, read and help lead out in church services. I don’t think I will go back to my old life and self. I have to do things differently and with God’s guidance in prayer and supplication. I can now see my life much better than I was outside.
Tracy Tiran says “I was a Christian outside and continue the same inside the female wing. I value God and my neighbours. Everyone we meet is God’s creature, created in His image and likeness. We must enforce a network of relationships that connects us to God.
Tracy says being in prison has its own challenges.
“When I was outside I have heard stories of much hardship faced by female prisoners. I think it is the same for males as well. But things are different for our male counterparts; they are taken through a rigorous classification process, and they have more physical and spiritual freedom than us. There is more incentive for better performance for males than females, I observed.”
However, things are changing gradually with small incremental changes as this is a prison Tiran says.
“One thing is for sure, God is at work, for a small change is a great miracle. This is attributed to the prayers and secondly, as a result of God using people to file human rights cases.
Commitment by prison management
Officer in charge of the female wing Agnes Kunjil and the station in-charge of the division Lydia Wai further echoed the spiritual dimension and change.
“We were in a tunnel, we could not see the light but since 2013 to now things have changed. There is open heaven, we can see the sunshine, and we can see heaven over us here at Bomana,” says Kunjil.
Spiritual co-ordinator of the female wing Corporal Suwelui Nihute adds that God is in the business of changing lives and brining people to encounter Him.
“True rehabilitation begins and ends with God. Where we as prison officers fail to do our work, God is overtaking and changing mindsets. We will give priority to spiritual programmes and free up the mind and give hope and spiritual freedom,” she says.
- Theo Yasause is an inmate at Bomana Prison.