Maria Jose bursts with joy at a gathering for children of prisoners in Colombia.
Maria Jose is nine years old. She is bright and outgoing, and her smile cheers a whole room. But she has a sad secret: four years ago her father Alfredo was sent to prison. He won’t be released until after she graduates high school. She misses him every day—so much she’s developed severe anxiety. Maria Jose looks forward to the few hours she gets to visit him each month. Today is that day.
She wakes up early, selects her best outfit, and pulls on her favorite knit cap to cover the bald spots on her head. Here’s a secret Maria Jose can’t hide: a year ago, she started losing her hair. The doctors call it Alopecia—they say it’s caused by chronic anxiety and severe stress.
The loss of Maria Jose’s father is unbearable. The loss of her hair is embarrassing. And the stares and whispers from children in her neighborhood make her want to disappear. In Colombia, it is especially shameful to be related to a prisoner. Basic things like food and medical care are scarce, because Maria Jose’s mother Consuelo can only work two days a week, as a housekeeper, for very little pay. Maria Jose worries about her mother, too, who has been so ill she was recently hospitalized.
“Taking care of our home and raising my daughter alone are so difficult without Alfredo around,” says Consuelo. “María Jose needs a father figure.”
Weak family relationships and lack of parental support, along with hopelessness and persistent separation anxiety are shared experiences among thousands of children of prisoners around the world. Heartbreakingly, these internalized struggles are also among the leading causes of adolescent suicide.
Thousands more children of prisoners throughout the world are in desperate need. They live in impoverished, unsafe conditions; lack food, clothes, medicine, and the chance to go to school. They need to know they are seen and loved. And through our caring network of supporters and God’s grace, thousands of children of prisoners in eight countries are receiving life-saving care and the opportunity to regain their hope and understand their value in the light of God’s love.
On her way to visit her father in prison, Maria Jose travels through a steep maze of hillside shacks to where Medellín’s mountains touch the valley floor. There stands Bellavista Prison. It’s scary to walk the overcrowded, cell-lined halls that house thousands of Colombia’s worst criminals. There are also thousands of prisoners, like María Jose’s father, who desperately need to hear about the hope and love only Jesus can bring. Our supporters are helping us bring justice and healing in response to crime by sharing the Gospel with prisoners.
After hours of waiting in a small holding room, Maria Jose is taken to the prison’s courtyard to see her father. A huge smile lights her face, as she practically leaps into his outstretched arms.
“It was worth it,” she later tells her caseworker.
Maria Jose dances with a Prison Fellowship International staff member.
Since her father has been in prison, Maria Jose has noticed a change in him. He talks about God now, and says he feels peace.
Alfredo participated in Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelism and discipleship program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, which introduced him to Jesus in a personal way. Alfredo says his time in prison has given him the opportunity to search for God.
“I want to walk with God, so he can help me rebuild my life,” he says.
With our supporters help, we have now reached more than 217,000 prisoners, just like Alfredo, in 30 countries, with the message of the Gospel.
María Jose, Consuelo, and Alfredo are beautiful testimonies of how our supporters’ gifts impact an entire family. The practical help and care they receive is making a true difference for families who have so little, but are now experiencing hope and restoration in a broken and hurting world.
Now, María Jose receives food, medical care to manage her incurable Alopecia, and emotional counseling to help her heal from the trauma of her father’s incarceration. That emotional support is so vital to regaining her confidence.
A caring supporter sent Maria Jose a box of caps to add to her collection—a simple way to help Maria Jose regain her self-confidence.
María Jose also has the comfort of a Christian caseworker, who visits her regularly to ensure she lives in safety and has opportunities to interact with other children of prisoners, get plugged into a local church community, and stay connected with her father in prison. This helps to build her relationships, ease her anxiety, and feel accepted, supported, and loved. Consuelo says it gives her hope to know people are caring for her family.
“I know I am not alone in this.”
We are so grateful for the difference our caring network of supports are making in the lives of families like Maria Jose, Consuelo, and Alberto. Just imagine the eternal impact of that support.