0.3 Square Meters

Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  17 August, 2010

0.3 square meters is the amount of space that each of the 1,300 inmates in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, Haiti have to themselves.  They can’t sleep lying down.  The lucky ones hang their legs and arms out the spaces between the bars at the side of the building as their only respite from the heat. Some have been pulled out and have even died from issues caused by long-term immobility.  Living in sweltering 100+ degree heat and humidity, they drink disgusting, untreated water pumped up from a well underneath the prison. A recent test of the water by an international NGO concluded that not only was the water unsafe to drink by WHO standards (9 traces of e. coli, coli-form numbers over 2420), but it was recommended that the water not even be used for showering as any wounds would become infected.  Not a surprise since the prison sits next to the central square of the city, where thousands of people walk, drive, live, urinate, defecate, and litter daily.

I'm thankful I'm not in there

I was invited by the Chief of the Community Violence Reduction unit of the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH or Mission Nation Unies pour la Stabilization en Haiti) to assess the existing water situation and propose a way to get safe, clean drinking water to the inmates. I know these people aren’t angels, but the it’s simply inhumane. I am excited that we have a chance to change some part of this in partnership with the UN.  We have been invited to be part of the working group with the ICRC, MINUSTAH, and the prison authority to work on getting this prison reconstructed.  We are also putting in purification systems for the Jacmel prison in southeast Haiti, and we may get funding from MINUSTAH to get clean water to all 14 prisons in Haiti.

MINUSTAH is building a separate entire section of the prison for reinsertion — rehabilitation and job training for those who are about to get out.

Many who end up and stay here are petty criminals or were simply too poor to buy themselves out of prison as the rich criminals do.  The white-collar prisons have beds and each inmate has their own cell. These are the poor, miserable and forgotten.  It’s easier to sell a story about helping orphans, widows, and school children, but these people may be truly some of the most dispossessed and vulnerable in Haiti.

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