Philip Yancey shares the following account:
At each meeting on my 2006 tour of South Africa I told the story of Joanna, who embodies grace and reconciliation. When we went to Cape Town she invited us to Pollsmoor Prison, where she works. It’s an amazing place, five separate prisons linked by underground tunnels, holding eight thousand prisoners in all, triple the expected number.
Several hundred men crowded into a kind of exercise room, and Joanna led the service. She has a remarkable presence, greets each prisoner by name, and commands respect from inmates and authorities alike. Most days the prisoners are allowed out of their cells for only one hour, so a chance to attend a church service is a welcome relief. I’ll not soon forget the sound of several hundred male voices singing lustily,
“Soon and very soon we are going to see the King… No more crying there… No more dying there…”
After the meeting we visited one of the three cells that the prison has designated as “Christian Cells.” Forty-nine men sleep in a room about the size of my living room. They have triple-tiered bunk beds, and a few sleep on pieces of foam on the floor. The “toilet,” a plastic garbage bag servicing all forty-nine men, gets emptied once a day, and the resulting stench hit me like a wall.
There, we heard some of the prisoners’ own stories: “I’m a murderer in for life plus thirty-eight years… I’m a rapist… I killed my wife.” One by one they told of how God has changed their lives, and how they seek to live for God even if they never get out. Joanna and her husband, Julian, run a program of restorative justice, which walks the men through stages of confession, repentance, then victim restitution. We sang a few songs and emerged into shockingly fresh air and the beauties of Cape Town.
One scene stayed with me. Instead of pornography or graffiti, the prisoners had decorated their cell with the words of hymns and praise choruses. The most touching to me, in light of what Joanna had said in the restaurant (see yesterdays blog), was “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
~ From Trip Notes, South Africa, 2006 (Gracenotes, p. 319)