PFI, PFN seek support for convicts, relatives
By Ola Kehinde-Balogun
Susan, a middle-aged ex-prisoner was elated to be reunited with members of the Prison Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), the new family she had found during her incarceration period. In a media cocktail held recently at Ikeja, the capital city of Lagos State in honour of ex-prisoners, several dignitaries from many parts of the world were in attendance. Some other members of PFN from across the nation as well as key representatives of its principal body, Prison Fellowship International (PFI), had converged on Ikeja to emphasise its one purpose: To rekindle their devotion to providing succour to convicts.
Susan spoke of how she thought her life had crumbled until she came across PFN. While serving her jail term in one of the country’s prisons, Susan affirmed that PFN provided a lifeline to her and her family back at home. She said she had since been living a positive life full of splendour in her newly found home.
“In this family, we are referred to as ‘students’ as against prisoners by which we are known by the members of the society,” she said.
Executive Director of PFN, Pastor Ben Iwagu, charged the society members not to ostracise the family members of prisoners. He said the prisoners should rather be seen as viable members of the society.
According to Iwagu, a Good Samaritan is the person who should care for vulnerable persons on the road. He said the late British Prime Minister and statesman, Winston Churchill, had convincingly argued that civilisation of people was measured by the way they treat their vulnerable members. He informed that the Prison Fellowship was out to encourage people to give a second look at the family whose beloved breadwinners have been sentenced to jail. He urged everyone to show love, care and concern to the family of convicted prisoners, even as he charged that the convicts must always be fed with the word of God, hope and message of change. Through that, real change would come to the nation, he asserted. He also charged members of the society that could offer legal assistance to PFI students standing trial in courts across the globe to do so without hesitation.
He spoke further: “Our focus is to be a community of reconciliation, providing rooms of acquaintanceship for those who have been hurt. Prison Fellowship is a spiritual movement of people who are regulated by the love of God to express in practical terms that which Jesus came to do. He healed, fed, clothed and cared for the needy, and equally administered justice. In addition to what Jesus came to do, we are involved in medicals, family care, and lots more.
“If we ignore the needy in the society, it is to our own peril. PFI is involved in dealing with prison gate, prison congestions, over-population and the attendant inhuman conditions in prisons, which is not limited to Nigeria. So, we must deal with it from the case that our criminal jurisprudence be restored. We must sensitise our people towards knowing one truth, which is that: that man in the prison has children, wife and other dependants back at home. We can only ignore them to our own danger. The little child who is in the prison with the mother has committed no crime, but the society has prepared it so. Therefore, PFI is making a sound alarm to the world out there for people to know about the ordeals of the inmates, beyond the crime they have committed.”
The President of PFI, Frank Lofaro, who had come from the United States of America to grace the occasion, was quite delighted over the turnout at the event. He analysed how millions of people were usually sentenced to different prisons across the globe. He indicated that through ardent love of PFI, many of the prisoners, who he referred to as ‘students,’ have returned to Christ and have become better citizens in their respective countries. He frowned at child trafficking and child labour, which he said appeared to be gaining momentum in today’s world. “It is a blessing to bless other people. There are millions of people in prisons globally, yet they have families and relatives, who need care. When their family members, who are in the general society as well as themselves, who are in the prison custody are well looked after, they become better members of the society,” he added.
Many ex-prisoners, called ‘students of PFN’, who have gone through the prison custody acknowledged that they were grateful for the experience and how it had helped them restructure their lives. They expressed gratitude to PFN and PFI for keeping their homes intact while they were in jail, and for always giving them a word of hope all through their moments of trials.
An ex-prisoner, Olakunle, who said he was elated for being in the programme, said he was immensely grateful to PFN. He urged members of the society and philanthropists to partner with them. He said he was certain that crimes would reduce gradually if the convicts and their loved ones were well taken care of.
His words: “I appreciate this gathering, especially PFN and PFI in general. It was a hard lesson of prison journey I had. If I had not gone through it, I wouldn’t be able to stand before you today. PFN keeps playing a vital role in our lives, giving us hope. If not for them, a lot of us would have died in the prisons. They taught us skills, psychological emotions, social interactions, and I came out strong, standing on a stronger platform.”
Another ex-convict, Vera, said she was grateful to God for keeping her all through the challenges. She said: “It was an experience that one cannot forget in a hurry. I give glory to God for taking me through, especially for coming across PFN. When the PFN came to us, most of us were sceptical as per what they would say to us. We were wondering how they could be of any help to us, since all roads appeared blocked. But, they proved us wrong. It was an opportunity for us to know the Lord more, and to appreciate God’s unconditional love for us. I thank God for PFN and PFI. I came out of the prison in 2014, and since then I have found a new family. I thank them for the opportunities and empowerment they have exposed us to. So many people were trapped even when they seem to have gained their desired freedom. The prison gates didn’t trap them; their minds did. They did not know what next to do, and where to begin life from. But as for us, we have a new beginning in PFN. They gave us hope and they gave us a future.”