The prison of Basse-Terre has been making the French news lately.
The prison of Basse-Terre has been making the French news lately. Unfortunately, it has been making news for the wrong reasons as it was ranked by both French and European agencies as the worst prison in France.
Originally built in 1660, as a catholic convent, the prison of Basse-Terre was converted into a prison in 1772. Even today one has the impression of being transported back in time as its thick stone walls and barred cells and windows seem to be taken straight out of an 18th century novel.
Not only is the prison old and rundown its social services are inadequate, and it is extremely overcrowded. Set up to hold 130 prisoners its current population is approximately 200 and there are only 2 social workers assigned to work with the prisoners. Due to budget constraints, and a lack of political will, renovation and rebuilding projects have come and gone over the last ten years with no concrete follow through.
The Protestant Reformed Church of Guadeloupe (PRCG), through the prison chaplaincy program and through a partnership with a local non-profit organization "Accolade Caraibes", has had a presence in the prison of Basse-Terre for the last several years. The actual pastor of the Church is the regional prison chaplain in charge of overseeing the protestant chaplaincy work in Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana, and several members of the parish work and volunteer with prisoners both in Basse-Terre and in another prison located in the town of Baie-Mahault.
As part of my mission here in Guadeloupe I am assigned as both prison chaplain and "reinsertion" counselor at the Prison of Basse-Terre. As well as accompanying them spiritually, I also help prisoners make plans to reintegrate society after their incarceration. Through job and training orientation, spiritual support, family counseling, transitional housing opportunities and acting as a link between the prisoners and the parole board we try to help prisoners as they battle to create a "new life" for themselves.
Obviously the challenges are immense. Guadeloupe has an unemployment rate of 22% and it is already hard enough for people not in prison to find jobs. Many of the prisoners we work with have a low level of education or professional training and often times their family situations are extremely complicated. Through listening, prayer and helping them find concrete solutions to their problems many have come to realize that God's promise of "new life" is possible.
Please pray for the prison population of Guadeloupe and the work of the Prison Chaplains and the social workers of Accolade Caraibes.
Tim Rose serves with the Reformed Church of France as the Pastoral Assistant for Diaconal Ministries in Guadeloupe and Martinique.