Haitian prisons are not like what we are familiar with in the U.S. Often there are dozens of men crammed into a tiny cell with no where to sit or even lie down. They do not receive food or other basic essentials unless someone in their family brings it to them. Because so many are poor, it is too much of a burden for their families and they are abandoned, leaving them with no hope. Many die before ever receiving a trial.
Over a year ago Shelley was approached by a UN officer who was working in one of the newer prisons and asked her to help improve the lives of prisoners in Haiti. He wanted them to do some job skills development with a handful of prisoners to give them a little money, some hope, and some dignity.
She gained permission to go in with a few of her employees and train them in rolling the cereal box beads. Chavanne Timil, (in yellow) is the manager of the Prison Program for Shelley. He is in and out of the prison several days a week. He brings them the already cut cereal box strips, the sticks to roll them on and the glue. He makes sure that everything is being made to AP standards and when they have finished their work, he brings back the rolled beads so they can be varnished at AP.
Chavanne, Marilyn and I outside the prison.
After a year and a half, they have 70 prisoners in the program and we were able to pay them a visit when I was there in March. This was an extra special treat because it takes a lot of coordination and effort to be able to go in. Especially since Shelley was bringing two extra people. I will have to say that I was both nervous and excited as I did not know what to expect.
After walking through several check points and down quite a few hallways, we climbed a set of stairs to a large room where the men were already working away. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells and can roll beads there but they are allowed an hour to come and work together in this room.
These particular men were chosen to be in the program because most all have life sentences. And all of them have been abandoned by their families.
This means no one is helping them. They have no one bringing them the things they need and no money to buy them. The bead program allows them to earn money and they are so very grateful for the work!
It was so fun walking around and seeing the awesome job they do on the beads. They were just beautiful. I learned that a large percentage of these beads are used for our fundraiser bracelets!