Easter celebrations will be a bit more joyful for several dozen men who are leaving prison to be with their families in several Caribbean nations.
The inmates, nonviolent offenders who were being held for nonpayment of fines as low as $10, are able to head home for the holiday under a programs established by Food for the Poor based in Coconut Creek, Fla.
Angel Aloma, executive director of the organization, told Catholic News Service that agency representatives arranged to pay the fines of men who were jailed for petty crimes, such as stealing a loaf of bread.
Some inmates have been held as long as two years because they could not afford the fines.
Food for the Poor undertakes the effort in the weeks before Easter and Christmas at prisons in the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica.
Aloma said in most cases inmates must endure overcrowding, food shortages, lack of bedding and primitive sanitation facilities.
An overnight fire at a prison in Comayagua, Honduras, in February claimed more than 350 lives. Officials blamed the high casualty toll on overcrowded conditions in the prison, where an estimated 800-900 inmates were housed in a facility built for 350-400 people.
“The situations are horrendous,” Aloma said.
For those who remain jailed, Food for the Poor delivers food, shoes and clothing.
“It’s hard for them to see somebody released and they remain there,” Aloma added.
The program would not be as successful without the cooperation of prison officials in each of the countries, he said, explaining that they are strapped by limited resources allocated by national governments to provide for inmates’ needs and to improve prison facilities.
“Ours is a spiritual visit,” Aloma said. “We wash their feet in a true sense of humility because, by the virtue of where we are born, there but for the grace of God go I.”