I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:36-40, ESV)
In the aforementioned reading, Jesus talks about the importance of visitation and caring for those in need. He stressed how significant, caring for the sick, the poor and those in prison is. Very instructive in his admonition is the need to show care and utmost love to those in prison. Thus, if we care for the sick, the poor and the hungry in our communities without factoring in those in our prisons, we have not fulfilled scripture.
The Church of Pentecost has over the years enjoyed very cordial relationship with the Ghana Prisons Service. Aside preaching the gospel to the inmates and supporting the service with the donation of cash and various items, the church has also seconded some ministers to the service who are serving as Chaplains. All these, have been done by the church to ensure that our brothers and sisters, who for one reason or the other, sometimes, through no fault of theirs, have found themselves in prison do not feel rejected or despised.
On Sunday, July 21, 2019, the Chairman of The Church of Pentecost, Apostle Eric Nyamkeye, cut the sod for the commencement of a new prison facility at Nsawam to decongest the existing one. This follows another one being constructed at Ejura. News of this noble gesture has been received with mixed feelings. While some are commending the church for this, others have heavily critiqued this. They have described it as a misplaced priority. Some have wondered why a church will not concentrate on its core mandate of evangelism but venture into the construction of a prison facility.
One major challenge confronting Ghana Prisons Service is overcrowding. Most prisons are accommodating numbers that have exceeded their thresholds. Apart from few modern prisons, most prisons, which were constructed during the colonial times, have not been expanded or refurbished. A visit to some of our prisons today will not only live you sad, but you will realize that the conditions are not fit, even for animals. These facilities are in no way, positioned to reform those sent there. This explains why most ex-convicts come back worse off after their release.
In a speech read on his behalf at a workshop organised to sensitize senior Police and Prisons Officers on the guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa last year, the Director General of the Ghana Prisons Service, Mr. Patrick Darko Missah noted that there was a total of 15,063 prisoners at the end of September 2018 against authorized capacity of 9,875 of all prisons in the country with a corresponding general overcrowding rate of 52.5%. He further added that, isolated rates in walled prisons holding medium to high risk prisoners, range from 100 to 400%, which is affecting quality of service in terms of food, healthcare, bedding, sanitation, education and life skills.
Writing on the topic “Within Ghana’s prison walls: The myth, the truth and all”, DSP. Daniel Machator, the PRO for the Prisons Service in the Central Region, indicated, “Smaller prison facilities should be established in district capitals to help decongest our facilities and improve sanitation. It is only in a serene environment that inmates can have the peace of mind to subscribe to reformation and rehabilitation programmes on offer by prison authorities” (Sourced from Myjoyonline on Wednesday, July 31, 209. Article uploaded on April 17, 2018).
Until recently, it was very difficult to see visuals of conditions in our prisons. It is possible that the conditions have become so frustrating that the Prisons Service will now have to “sell their sickness” in order to have an antidote to it. Thus, with some documentaries, we as a nation have become aware to the disturbing conditions in our prisons.
This explains why The Church of Pentecost, as part of its Vision 2023 (a five-year strategic vision document of the church), plans to, in collaboration with the Ghana Prisons Service, initiate the construction of accommodation facilities (cells) for selected prisons in the country as part of efforts to support government ease congestions in our prisons while providing a decent correctional facility which will enhance the reformation of prisoners. These facilities, being put up will have inmates and administration block, warehouse, washrooms, soccer pitch, chapel, kitchen and other ancillary facilities.
Our mandate as a church transcends preaching the gospel alone. We must be seen to providing answers to the many socio-economic challenges we face as a nation. Jesus did not only preach the Gospel but met the basic needs of those he ministered to. He fed 5,000 people with five (5) loaves of bread and two (2) fishes.
He even attended a wedding ceremony. This shows how socially responsible he was. He was a spiritual being who was concerned about the salvation of the souls he ministered to and a social being, who satisfied the emotional and physical needs of his adherents. Thus, this attempt to ridicule this highly commendable gesture by The Church of Pentecost is not only regrettable but a cause for worry especially, those being expressed by our fellow Christians.
More disappointing is the misgivings expressed by some Church of Pentecost members. The attacks on the leadership is unacceptable. The argument that the funds being channelled into the construction of these prisons should be spent paying the fees of members can only come from self-centred members who wish that, all the resources the Lord has blessed the church with must be spent on our them alone without any form of assistance to the souls outside the COP. May be some information at this point will help.
In 2018 alone, The Church of Pentecost spent about GHS2.7 million supporting the educational pursuits of its members nationwide. Also, about GHS5 million was spent to provide very decent places of worship for our brothers and sisters in very deprived communities. There are many other very life transforming interventions the church has put in place to support the less privileged amongst us.
If prisoners are offered opportunities and are properly trained, they can make significant contributions to national development after serving their terms of imprisonment. We send the gospel to the prisoners and we are all witnesses to the horrible conditions they live in. It will be very inhuman on our part and insensitive as well, to just look on unconcerned. It is against this background that all hands should be on deck to address the problems in our prisons and other very notable challenges in our nation.
As a nation, we are noted to create jokes out of almost everything and sometimes, in our attempt to do so, we end up watering down the significance of certain actions taken. This is not the time for ridiculing. It is time to step out there and make the gospel real to our hearers. They must not only hear the gospel, they must feel it.
Yaw Asamoah Akowuah
Holds a B.A (Arts) in Religious Studies from UCC and an MPhil in Religious Studies from KNUST. He is a lay leader of The Church of Pentecost and an administrator.