Cuba’s Prison Crisis
Despite the death of Fidel Castro and Raul Castro’s retirement next year, Cuba continues to be a military state with a high percentage of political criminals and a large prison population. Prisoners are dealt with harshly. Conditions inside prisons are desperate. Cuba has 105 national prisons and some have 7,000 to 8,000 inmates and more. Prisons are run by the military with little access. outside of the immediate family. Families visit only on Sundays or on special occasions. Many inmates are totally cut off and alienated by their families. As a result, there is a high incidence of suicides and self-mutilation. I first began supporting the chaplaincy ministry in Cuba 18 years ago when I was asked for needed resources to take to prisoners and their families. With the current economic downturn and little help from Venezuela, the government has very limited supplies for prisoners. Chaplains receive few Bibles, literature, clothing, food or medicines. In 1999 I met with the director of the chaplain ministry and gave him duffel bags of shoes, clothes, and medicines while providing him with bicycles for workers visiting prisoners and their families. The chaplains I met were all in desperate need of those resources yet committed to helping those in greater need. The chaplains, like the inmates, lacked shoes, clothing, Bibles and especially training. Since then Emblaze Ministries has sponsored a national conference, provided training manuals for chaplains, and provided monthly support for numerous chaplains, along with tracts, New Testaments, Bibles and clothing for the prisoner’s families. We have provided musical instruments and discipleship materials for new believers inside the prisons. We have also provided pastoral training courses for some prisoners who feel called to hold Bible Studies and care for their cellmates spiritually. We have begun chaplaincy training in a few prisons.
Finding Christ in the Crisis
Cuban Prison officials recognize that prisoners can’t be rehabilitated. Reeducation does not work because no program, training or penalty can change the heart. As one of our chaplains explained, “Prisons don’t change the man. Only God can change man by changing his heart. Prisons are a college for crime to teach prisoners how to do crime better.” Officials now recognize that prisoners experiencing a radial transformation had experienced a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It was then that some prisons began to open their doors for chaplains to visit, bring in resources and share their faith. When Prison and military officials see the transformation in murderers, drug addicts and thieves they want that transforming power in their institutes. In those prisons, Chaplains are allowed to meet prisoners one on one and visit prisoners in small groups. Even then the chaplains had little training, few Bibles, New Testaments, tracts or materials to meet the needs. That changed 4 years ago as we helped host the first chaplains training conference for over 600 chaplains. The chaplains have asked for a center to train new chaplains and a 2nd conference to provide resources.
Keys for Opening Prison Doors
- Prisoner’s Families. Much of our chaplaincy work is done by accompanying the wives and children of prisoners who visit on Sundays and special occasions (birthdays, holidays etc). Our chaplains provide food, shoes, clothing, tracts, Bibles and training materials for the prisoners but are limited in sharing these resources with other prisoners. Our chaplains send letters and tracts into the prisons and often lead the families of these prisoners to Christ as well. Recently prison guards have come to Christ through their testimonies and changed the lives of the prisoners.
- Baseball/ Sports: I traveled into Central Cuba with athletes out of San Francisco who had come to play baseball. They supplied Cuban youth groups with sports equipment and resources to start sports teams across the Island. They came with duffel bags full of baseballs, bats, gloves, uniforms and equipment to start 8 ball teams. We played youth teams, left sports equipment, and helped start a baseball league through local churches. One day we played a game besides a men’s prison in Camaguey and before we knew it, the prison guards asked us to play against our team. It accelerated to Cuba vs USA and competition was intense but we soon learned that baseball/sports could open prison doors for playing and sharing the gospel with both prisoners and guards. Today chaplains play baseball against prisoners and guards, share Christ, and lead cell groups studying Christ in a number of prisons God has opened through sports.
Testimonies From Behind Bars:
- Inmate Arqiz Rodriguez was resentful, depressed & suicidal unable to help his diabetic mother or son. He accepted Christ through a chaplain. God changed his life & his family has started a house church in their home.
- Raul told of his visit to a sick prisoner. He helped his family who were destitute and without food. He prayed for the prisoner who manifests a demon, took authority over it and led him to Christ. The demon left him and his family to accept Christ through their father’s testimony and faith.
- A mentally challenged prisoner accepted Christ when God freed him of his condition. The chaplain asked for our help to provide a roof, food and clothing for his family and now they too have accepted Christ.
- One prisoner received Christ after a hurricane destroyed his house and left his family without a home & living in squalor. A chaplain helped the family with food, clothing and some funds to begin rebuilding. The chaplain has started a Bible Study in their home.
- Daniel Cobas is a boy 8 years old who was abandoned by both parents as a young child. They are both in prison and he is being cared for by his elderly grandmother. A chaplain brings food and clothes to Daniel and his grandmom and takes him to church.
- Pablo Preval served 47 years in prison when he accepted Christ. The prison warden couldn’t believe the change in this murderer’s life. He was released from prison when he recently became blind and deemed fit to return to society. He was to help others in prison hear the gospel message of a Savior and God.
- Alcibiades Hinojosa served 20 years in prison with a brother also in prison. His father is bedridden and his sister is mentally challenged. He received Christ when he learned that a chaplain was caring for his family. He is now released from prison and wants to serve as a chaplain to other prisoners and families in the prison he left.
Thank you for partnering with us. Nobody helps us reach the men and women in prison. Nobody cared about their families. Thank you for your care and for your help!
In prison, you came to me. (Matt. 25:36)