“Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; Loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.” -Isaiah 52:2
Recently I was invited to be a part of a group going to Pollsmoor Prison to participate in a prayer walk through one of the parts of the prison. It is a part of Hope Prison Ministries and many people at Hillsong Church are involved in the incredible endeavor. Monthly they do a prayer walk just to spiritually cover the work they do daily with inmates throughout the prison. It is hard to know the statistics of the prison, but they are certainly dire. We spent our evening in the maximum security wing, which was created for 1500 men and presently holds over 4000. Overcrowding was one problem among many others such as gangsterism, drugs, rape, illnesses such as tuberculosis and suicide.
I had no idea what to expect the night we went, and actually didn’t even know what we were doing until I got there but I have had a deep desire to go to Pollsmoor for years. Many men and women we work with and love in Ocean View have been in and out of this prison and I have heard of the darkness that is found within. There was a long process of checking us into the prison and then we gathered inside for briefing and prayer. Over 300 Christians came that night to walk and pray which was an incredible thing! We were briefed on how it would work as there are obviously dangers to being in the prison and advised how to pray for people as we walked. They instructed us to put up our hands and simply pray and sing as we felt led.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced walking through the prison.
The maximum security is the home of the worst offenders of Cape Town and its surrounds. These man have committed horrific crimes and done unspeakable things. Now they spend every minute locked in a crowded and dingy cell. Being outside these cells made you feel the weight of the darkness and hopelessness that sits heavy in that place. We sang Christian songs before entering the hallways, but once you reached the hallways of the cells all you could do was pray for dear life. It felt spiritually dark and was also horribly loud as the inmates shouted at out and poked their hands out of tiny holes or ripped wire windows to grab our hands as we passed. Some shouted as us things like “Praise God” or “Thank you” and other comments that were crude or obscene. Others just stared blankly. Their eyes said so much. So much pain. So much darkness. So much hopelessness.
We walked and prayed for over an hour and my body and heart were exhausted by the end of it. The experience was a shock to the senses but much greater was the shock to our hearts. No matter what crimes these men have committed, no human deserved to be locked up in this way. It was dark and depressing and would be difficult for even the strongest person to find hope in the circumstances.
And yet, somehow I left with hope rustling in my broken heart. A hope stirred for the men and what God was doing in their lives and all that was still possible in their futures. On the streets of Ocean View many men and women trick themselves into thinking that they are tough and cool acting like gangsters but there was nothing cool about Pollsmoore Prison. Being locked up is horrific and it was definitely the end of the road. Maybe in the dark days of Pollsmoor these men will begin to reach for Jesus as their true light? Maybe in their search for hope they will find the God who is the creator of all hope? Maybe in realizing they ruined their own lives they will reach out to the One who has their names written on His book for all eternity?
Hope is never dead, even in the darkest place imaginable. Hope is alive in Pollsmoor Prison and it’s alive in me.