RSCJ | Prison Ministry, Moroto, Karamoja

Prison Apostolate in Moroto, Karamoja

This is a very small ministry compared with, for example, the work being done by our Sisters in the huge prison in Kinshasa, Congo, but it is one that gives joy to us and a little happiness to the prisoners.

Every Thursday four of us, Sister Prassede, Comboni Missionary Sister, myself, Alice a Karimojong teacher, and Angelina, a Karimojong nurse, spend the better part of the afternoon in the prison. The number of prisoners varies between 100 and 200. There are very few women, rarely as many as ten sometimes none, sometimes only one poor soul pining with loneliness in the women's wing.

Often we have to wait up to half an hour to get in because a new group of prisoners has arrived and is being processed or because the floor of the big communal cell is being washed. There is no furniture; the prisoners sit on the floor and sleep on mats, as many of them would do at home. Many of the prisoners are illiterate and few speak English, but almost all speak Swahili as well as their own language, Ngakarimojong.

They are always glad to see us because we go faithfully, every week, and when our means allow we give them soap or smearing oil. We used to give ground tobacco (snuff), which they love, but this was ruled out as harmful to health two years ago.

We usually begin our time with the rosary and over the years I have come to realize that this form of prayer comforts them and gives them peace. Then one of them reads the Gospel for the following Sunday and we reflect on it together. After that, if we are in the midst of preparing a play we rehearse it. These plays are produced at least four times a year, a Christmas play, a passion play and two others, most often Scripture-based, for example the story of the Book of Jonah, or of Joseph and his brothers or of the Prodigal Son. We have learned that the best way to call out their creativity is to tell them the story, have someone read it, have them tell it to us and then ask them to dramatize it. They are very good at drama and they enjoy it, even those who are just spectators. After they get out of prison they quite often come up in the street to say, “Sister, remember me? I was the Virgin Mary in the Christmas play..” or “I was Pharaoh in the story of Joseph and his Brothers..”

Prisoners in Moroto acting out the Gospel story of The Good Samaritan

Sometimes, when there is time, we end up with Karimojong dancing. This consists of forming a circle, singing and clapping to a special rhythm while some leap into the centre and jump and twirl to the rhythm of the song (usually about cows and raiding). In the village when there is a full moon and plenty of girls this kind of dancing can go on all night. In the prison it gives them exercise and a way of letting off steam, for some are never allowed outside the cell. This new prison is still being built, though the prisoners moved in 2 years ago. When it is completed the field in the centre, with buildings and walls all round, will be available to the prisoners for football and other sports.

I don't ask the prisoners what they have done. Better not to know. The prison authorities tell me they are in for raiding cows, having illegal guns, killing, fighting, stealing (mobile phones especially) and raping.

Quite often the prisoners come to our house on being released to ask for transport money to get home. Those who have completed their sentence are given transport money by the prison, but those who have been waiting to go to court and then are acquitted are not. It is wrong that they should spend months in jail waiting to see the magistrate, are then found innocent and yet are not even given the means to get home.

This is our little prison apostolate and we enjoy it. We hope our sessions help the prisoners get closer to God in their enforced time of retreat in the big cell.

Margie Conroy, RSCJ