Why I Went to Prison on my 17th Birthday
Blog post written by Claire Campo
When you hear the word "birthday," what words come to mind? Celebrations, presents or cake? Well, today is my birthday and I was privileged to do something totally different than most people experience on their birthdays. I visited a girls' “detention center” in El Salvador, and I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.
When we arrived at the prison, we had to enter through the guarded gates. As we entered the facility, we all experienced a thorough pat down. After entering, I looked to the left and saw young women smiling at us behind bars. To my surprise, the girls were wearing everyday clothing that you and I would wear. This was not expected because when I think of a prison, I picture everyone in orange striped uniforms. The girls didn't look any different than us and two of them were holding their babies. It made me sad to realize that these babies would spend the first few years of their lives in a prison, even though they were innocent of their mothers' crimes. What really touched my heart was the fact that one of the women was wearing a Crean Lutheran High School soccer jersey. It was cool to see that our donations from last year had been given to those in need and they deeply appreciate it.
After we met the girls behind bars, we went upstairs to get ready for the Bible study. The girls entered into the room with warm hugs and smiles. Some of the women sang the song "Oceans" as we started the presentation. Not only did they sing in English, but they had several verses prepared in Spanish. After they sung, two of our team members gave testimonies of how Jesus healed them from brokenness and abuse in their pasts. One of the testimonies was about a broken relationship with her father. Despite the abuse that this woman experienced as a child, the Lord had given her the strength to extend forgiveness. Although I was unable to understand the message since she was speaking in Spanish, it was obvious the that girls were touched. After the testimonies, one of the Sus Hijos missionaries gave a Bible study about forgiveness, which correlated directly to the testimonies. It was a powerful experience to watch the teenage girls hearing testimonies and a teaching from God's Word on forgiveness, especially since they come from traumatic pasts. I'm so thankful that I was able to be part of the amazing ministry that the Lord is doing in El Salvador on my seventeenth birthday.
Note: we were unable to take photos in the prison.