Imagine that you take a trip to a foreign country for a few days and find yourself staying a few years – behind bars.
Hard as it is to believe, that’s the story told by more than one inmate in the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd) Penitentiary for Women in Desamparados, Costa Rica. Some women here claim innocence. Others, like the young woman I visit, acknowledge that they were breaking the law when they tried to leave the country with drugs stowed in their luggage.
A fellow missionary of mine in Costa Rica works with a recovery ministry to English-speaking foreigners at the prison. As part of the ministry, she is not permitted to meet individually with the women on visiting day.
One day, she asked me if I would visit one of the young women who had no visitors. There were two that she asked me to consider – one was a difficult person, emotionally surrounded by thick walls. The other was a real sweetheart.
After praying about it, I felt led to visit the more difficult woman. In the end, I developed relationships with both of them. The sweetheart, Jennifer*, is now free and has now returned to her home country.
This story is about the other young lady, though.
Entering the prison for the first time – every time, for that matter – is an experience.
Sometimes it takes as long as an hour and a half just to get into the visiting area. After waiting in three separate lines, you are searched bodily and everything you bring is checked carefully. Drug runners are clever. As a precaution, no metal, glass, phones, cameras or umbrellas are permitted. Any food you bring must be in see-through packaging. Once inside, the visiting area is huge and open, where everyone finds a spot to sit and visit with whomever they like, not only the woman they came to see.
Pain and anger
When I first met Beauty*, a Zulu woman from South Africa, she sat for the entire visit with fists clenched, looking everywhere but at me, venting her anger toward God for putting her there. At that moment, it did not matter that she was caught at the airport with cocaine in her luggage.
She blamed God for not providing for her needs. She said because of Him (and His lack of care), she had to try to do it on her own. She had listened to a man back in South Africa who used her as a drug runner, and she believed that just one run would give her enough money to care for herself and her son for a very long time.
It only took one run, though, to get caught.
Over time, I heard her story. It was a story of a little girl abandoned by her parents and raised by a grandmother who did not love her.
The cake I gave to Beauty in December for her 38th birthday was her very first one. A layered homemade quilt I stitched together as a birthday gift was not permitted by the prison guards. It now sits back in my home, a reminder to pray for this woman and to persevere in loving her.
Finding her way
For Beauty, finding a way to earn money in the prison is very difficult. There are few jobs available, but Beauty is talented creatively. However, only round-tipped scissors are permitted. That makes it difficult to cut fabric and sew handbags or garments to sell to visitors. For foreigners, there is no family to bring them the necessities. And although I try to bring Beauty what she needs, many items (like the quilt) don’t make it past the prison door.
Despite the difficulties, what is most important is that God is helping her make spiritual progress through this journey. Anger from a life filled with pain continues to be an issue from time to time, but the Holy Spirit is working on Beauty as we talk and pray together and as she spends time with the Lord on her own.
And every day is one less day that she must spend in the prison. What a blessing to be a mentor to her, to be her friend, to be obedient to the call of the Lord to visit the prisoners (Matt. 25:36).
[Story shared by a ReachGlobal missionary serving in Costa Rica.]
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- That God would give Beauty freedom from anger and spiritual oppression.
- For the many women in prison who do not know Jesus Christ.