A different prison ministry

Revisiting this experience is almost as painful as when it was lived through.

In November Urukundo was called by the Department of Gender and Family Development. The Secretary to the Minister's program for the day was to secure homes for the prison children. No, they are not criminals. In Rwanda when a nursing mother or a pregnant woman is incarcerated, the baby stays in the prison with the mother until the age of three years. At that time family are looked for to take the baby. And if there is no family, then the child is placed in an orphanages.

We had been asked in the late summer last year, and said 'no' since we had no room. However, in November the Ministry called again and this time we knew we could not refuse. We agreed to take two children. On the 26th of January the Vice Minister called to say we would receive the two children, both boys, the next day. I expected them to bring the children to us. That did not happen.

The Vice Minister arrived accompanied by a man I had not met before. Bonaventure Uwvumyi was very tall and official-looking. He was introduced as the Head of National Prison, Civic Education and Correctional Service. They requested John and I accompany them to the prison to pick up our boys. I really did not want to do that, but it seemed that I had no choice.

When we got to the prison the guards refused us admittance. The two in the other car had to come back to get us. Finally we were inside. Eugenia came to meet me. I had met her at Fina Bank several weeks before and I knew she worked at the prison but never dreamed how soon I would meet her again. She took me aside and explained she wanted me to take a different child from my original allocation. She would take one of the boys assigned to me and I would take the boy she was to have taken to Inyanza. She had formed a special attachment and wanted the young boy where she could see him from time to time. It did not matter to me as I did not know any of the children yet.

The child Eugenia wanted us to take was named Ezekiel. He was 6 years old. He was older than the other children there, and had lived in the prison for all his 6 years. There was no sign of his mother. Eugenia introduced me to the doctor who cared for the babies at the prison. He explained Ezekiel was sick and needed medicine so he would need to keep him a few more days before releasing him to me. This we agreed and so we walked on to the infirmary. We were greeted with a disturbing scene; every age group was together in one room. The doctor called Ezekiel and told him he would go to live with me soon. He came over and put his little hand in mine and looked at me with serious frightened eyes but he did not let go.

We walked together hand in hand to where the others were waiting.

Much to my surprise the representative from Gender and Family Development refused to let the exchange Eugenia had proposed take place. He said that if we wanted to they would let us have the Ezekiel as an additional third boy. John and I exchanged looks and said we only had room for two and even so, we were pushing our resources. I had to let go of Ezekiel's hand. He turned hurt eyes to me and let them lead him away. My heart was crushed. This young child was so sad.

The hardest part of all came when the other two younger boys were being taken from their mothers to travel with us. Daniel and Claude are three years old and strong. Even though they knew Eugenia they struggled to get away and were kicking and screaming as they were picked up and placed in the car. Big tears filled their little eyes and poured down their cheeks, their mothers were crying, and the prison staff cried along with us. Eugenia broke down and tears filled John's eyes. I held it together until I was seated in the front seat of the car. Then I cried for the mothers and for their little boys. There has to be a better way to do this.
Eugenia, Claude, Daniel

We arrived home but Ezekiel stayed on my mind. He needed to belong and know love. Eugenia looked at me after seeing Urukundo and said "You do have room, Mama - more room than he has at the prison." John and I had already decided we would bring Ezekiel home to Urukundo. After paperwork and due process, one week later he is one of our boys.

We were told the mothers would be in prison for a very long time, perhaps as long as 17 years. This then would be the only move the boys would have to make. They would be young men by the time their mothers were free. We would not have to face giving up one of our children while they were small. But it did not happen that way. I should have expected that, as things do seem to work differently here.

Daniel's mother was released just two weeks after he came to live with us. Daniel had adjusted to Urukundo and did not want to leave but a little boy needs to be with his mother so we had to let him go. We do cry for our children many times over. What Daniel's life will be, only God knows. We pray for this little boy and for his mother.
daniel 1
A sad time at Urukundo

After seeing the living conditions of the babies at the prison I am wondering what we are being called to do. I had worked in prison ministry in Pa. and my heart goes out to the mothers who must separate from their babies, and for those children who need to know they are loved. I am sure God has a plan. It will be revealed to us in His time. Prayers please.

Breakfast: Sorghum Porridge drink & sandwich.
First day of Kindergarten Natete, Luki, Daniel, Claude

The precious gems go off to school.
Front row: Luki, Daniel, Claude and Natete. Back row: Annah, Aline Molly, Aline, Belise
off to school

The long journey to school begins with Hope & John protecting, and Lucia, Descor and Anita helping out.