Sermon Illustrations

HUMAITA PRISON

Charles Colson, Director of Prison Fellowship and former Counsel to the President of the United States Richard Nixon, who himself went to prison as a result of the Watergate affair wrote this:

"Humaita Prison in Brazil is a remarkable place. Almost twenty years ago, it was a rotting building where prisoners were tortured. Then three Christian men went to the government and asked permission to take over the prison. They got permission, And they started to run Humaita as a Christian prison. They did not restrict it to Christian inmates, but you couldn’t stay there very long without coming to know Christ.

"It is an extraordinary prison–-different from anything any of us have experienced. Inmates open the doors; they have the keys. Security as we understand it is totally compromised. When an inmate needs to leave the premises to go to court, that inmate is escorted by other inmates. The staff is made up entirely of volunteers. It is overseen by the judge responsible for all the prisons in that area, and the judge is supported because this prison is incredibly productive and stable.

"It is the cleanest prison I have ever seen," Colson said. "The cleaning schedule is established and carried out by the inmates. We asked inmates why they stayed when they could just walk away. Some had been assigned to other prisons and had tried for years to get assigned to this one because they believed they could escape easily.

But one inmate expressed the reason for his presence eloquently: 'When I walked into this prison, they took off handcuffs of steel and replaced them with handcuffs of love.'"

"They assign people to a buddy system. Each new inmate is assigned to an elder who loves the Lord. And at every single meal, they stand before the meal and recite the Lord’s Prayer in Portuguese. If anyone ever asks whether Christ makes a difference, send them down to San Jose des Campos in Brazil to the Humaita Prison. For all those years, while the government of Brazil has had a 74 percent reoffending rate, Humaita has released more than three hundred inmates, and they have had only twelve come back. That’s 4 percent reoffending rate."

Colson goes on to say: "One inmate showed me Humaita’s secret. This inmate was convicted for murder, but he was my guide through the prison, walking around with all the prison keys hanging from his belt. He asked whether I’d like to see the maximum security cell. So we walked down a long hall of steel doors toward the cell in question. He said it used to be the punishment cell where they tortured people. 'We still use it for punishment,' he said. 'We have one inmate in there.'

"He took me to the door and looked through the little peekhole. 'Are you sure you want to go in there?' he asked. 'I have been in maximum security holes all over the world,' I told him. I wanted to see. He said, 'Okay,' and then unlocked the door. As he swung the door open, I looked in and saw a couple of chairs and a dim light and flowers on a table. I walked through the door. To the right I saw a crucifix–Christ hanging on the cross. My guide pointed to the image of Christ and said, 'This is the prisoner who is taking the punishment for us.' A sign on the wall above the crucifix said, 'We are together' in Portuguese. They understand that they are joined with Christ, who suffered.

In Humaita - Jesus is better.

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