Falsely Accused and Jailed in Argentina
Editor's note: Some names have been partially redacted to protect individual privacy or for other reasons at the discretion of the editors of xFamily.org.
- 1 PERSECUTION ENDTIME NEWS No.3
- 1.1 Falsely Accused and Jailed in Argentina - Part 1
- 1.2 Ten days in a tiny filthy cell
- 1.3 Sharing our faith in jail
- 1.4 A life changed in the midst of suffering
- 1.5 Our first day in court
- 1.6 Back to court a second time
- 1.7 Transported to prison
- 1.8 Solitary confinement in the maximum security prison
- 1.9 Our cell
- 1.10 Peace from Heaven in the midst of hell
- 1.11 Assaulted in our cell
- 1.12 More human rights violations
- 1.13 Blood tests
- 1.14 "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
- 1.15 An angel in our cell
- 1.16 Answers to prayer for our prison cell mates
- 1.17 Fighting fear!
- 1.18 Wardens touched by the Lord
- 1.19 Winning hard hearts
- 1.20 The cell leader growing in faith
- 2 PERSECUTION ENDTIME NEWS No.4
- 2.1 Falsely Accused and Jailed in Argentina - Part 2
- 2.2 Our Lives in Peril
- 2.3 A Threat Removed
- 2.4 Accepted by the Others
- 2.5 Plans to Kill Us
- 2.6 A Miraculous Healing
- 2.7 Called to the Court
- 2.8 A New Judge
- 2.9 My Mother Joins the Battle
- 2.10 Prison Riot
- 2.11 A Narrow Escape
- 2.12 Cellmates' Hearts Touched
- 2.13 Prison Chaplain Sows Discord
- 2.14 Guards Won
- 2.15 Prison Is Hell on Earth
- 2.16 Jesus, I'm a Prisoner
- 2.17 Prison Crushes the Spirit
- 2.18 Bad News for Mary
- 2.19 Birthday in Prison
- 2.20 Riot Planned
- 2.21 Portents of Deliverance
- 2.22 Our Cellmates Continue to Change
- 2.23 U.S. Diplomats Pay Us a Visit
- 2.24 Meeting with Marquevich
- 2.25 Threatened Again
- 2.26 Day of Deliverance
PERSECUTION ENDTIME NEWS No.3
Published by The Family An International Christian Missionary Church
Articles compiled and provided free of charge in the public interest for informational purposes only.
Falsely Accused and Jailed in Argentina - Part 1
(Susan Claire Borowick is a 33-year-old Canadian missionary with the Christian missionary church, The Family, in Argentina. On September 1, 1993, she and many other missionary members of her church were arrested in pre-dawn raids, and nearly 140 of their children, including Claire's 11-year-old son Stephen, were detained. The arrests were the result of false accusations, including child abuse, made against The Family by disgruntled former members who travelled to Argentina to incite the authorities. Claire and all the other Family members arrested with her were ordered released by an appeals court on December 13, 1993 and the judge, Roberto Marquevich, who initiated the case, was ruled incompetent. Impeachment proceedings against Judge Marquevich are now making their way through the Argentine Congress.
(In this and the next issue of the PEN we will be publishing excerpts from Claire's letters and diary written while in prison. This is a story of injustice and cruelty, but also of faith, courage and outgoing concern for others in the midst of suffering.--And of God's unfailing help to His children in their time of need. Claire's account, written from Ezeiza Prison in Buenos Aires, begins with the initial raid...)
On September 1st, at 2:00 in the morning, we were all asleep after a very busy day. We were awakened by the sounds of police banging and yelling, demanding that we open the door immediately. Some of us stumbled out of bed and ran to the door and were commanded to immediately raise our hands or we would be shot.
In a matter of seconds, over 50 police, court officials, and social workers swarmed into the house. We were shown a search warrant, which gave no clue as to the nature of the investigation. As a first step, the children were herded into the living room and arrangements were made to transport them to institutions with some of their parents. To overcome our fear and to calm the children, we prayed together as we waited and sang a few songs and hymns, until the police officer in charge of the operation barked out: "Be quiet! This isn't a religious meeting!"
It later was apparent that we were facing a highly organized, carefully orchestrated frame-up--much more complicated than we might have imagined when the police first arrived! We soon overheard that the other Family communities in Buenos Aires were being raided simultaneously to ours. I had been singled-out by a former member, Abigail B., as being a leader of our church, thus our house was considered a central point or headquarters.
A police officer mentioned to a few of us that all the policemen, psychologists, and others involved in the operation had been required to attend seminars held by anti-"cult" activists Jose Maria Baamonde and Alfredo Silleta, where they propagandized them with wild and untrue tales about The Family. Because of this, the police and others were so paranoid that we might hypnotize them that they wouldn't look us in the eyes!
Meanwhile, the police started searching every room, systematically dismantling and examining every inch of every room, every piece of paper, every tape, every book, every document. All these items were collected and confiscated room by room. They started registering the confiscated property at 3:00 in the morning and didn't finish until 7:00 in the evening, 16 hours later.
By 9:30 in the morning, the phone started ringing incessantly, as friends and relatives called all day long. Some were informed of the arrest, others were cruelly taunted; some officers would answer the phone and then just hang up on those calling us. Several times we made coffee and food for the police and the rest of them, which they gruffly accepted Still, they refused to soften up in any way.
From the beginning we felt that the situation was much graver than anything we had ever experienced before. (Note: The Family in Argentina was investigated in 1989, and some members of the church were arrested at that time. They were released after a short time, and The Family was subsequently cleared of all charges against them.)
When the vehicles arrived to take the three children, most of the adults were taken with them, except for myself, and some of the men.
The court officials were very harsh. At one point, one approached me, asking where the safe was. I told him we didn't have a safe. He threatened me, saying that if I didn't tell him where the safe was, he would tear the whole house apart until he found it. I told him he could tear the house apart, but we didn't have a safe. He asked where we kept "all the documents". It turned out that one of the accusations made against us was that the "leadership" held all the documents of all the members of the community. I explained to him that each family holds their own documents and offered to show him my own amongst my own things. He seemed satisfied with this and insisted no more.
All the top policemen involved were present throughout the day. The head of the whole operation was the second most senior policeman in the province of Buenos Aires, Juan Carlos Rebollo. The Chief of the Secret Police of Tigre and the Chief of Police of Martinez were also there.
When they finished registering the property, they tried to have us sign a statement, confirming all they had confiscated and affirming that all this served as sufficient evidence to warrant our arrest. We refused to sign, and complained about the fact that we were not able to observe what they packed away as so-called "evidence" taken from the house. One of the many irregularities in the proceedings was that one of the two third-party witnesses who by law are supposed to monitor the police was excused for almost the whole day and went home (he was a neighbor) for hours, and the other slept for hours in a chair. Besides, it wasn't possible for two witnesses to watch what the many police officers were up to all over the house.
The authorities turned the house into a total shambles. We were told not to touch anything, and a photographer went from room to room, taking photos of every part of the house. We were informed that our house would be locked up and we would be given the keys. This was not the case. The police kept the keys, which were then supposedly turned over to the judge.
We were not formally questioned, nor were we allowed to speak to each other. Meanwhile, I was praying to not be detained alone in a place without other Family members, but I prayed that if such was to be the Lord's plan, He would give me the grace for it.
They loaded us into three cars--the boys in two, and me in another with four policewomen. On the way to the police station, a few of the police taunted two of our men, saying: "Don't you guys realize they don't want you in the country?" The police repeatedly claimed that they didn't know where I was to be taken, and they refused to answer any questions.
As we arrived at the police station, the press was there in huge numbers. The police covered our heads as we were led inside. By evening we still did not know what the charges were, nor were we informed of our rights. Since we were held "incommunicado", we were told we didn't have any rights.
Ten days in a tiny filthy cell
The boys were escorted to one end of the building, I to another. Upon arriving at the holding cell, I was overjoyed to find Kay Robb and Victoria (two other women from The Family ) there as that meant I was not to be detained alone. The holding cell was about three meters by three meters (approximately 10 feet x 10 feet), with one old dirty mattress thrown on the floor. From my arrest in 1989, I knew how terrible the prison conditions here can be, so I had brought two blankets, food, and toiletries. These were enough to tide us over until our friends were able to bring supplies.
To our surprise, they had arrested Sari and Teresa, two mothers of Family missionaries. Teresa is the wife of a diplomat from Uruguay. They also arrested four boarders living with Sari at the boarding house she runs. Somehow the police thought Sari's place was a Family community. The three women boarders were in our cell. That made eight of us in that tiny cell with just one dirty mattress. The fourth boarder, a man, who happens to be an opposition member of the Argentine parliament, was locked up with our men.
Of course this was an extremely difficult situation. Sari and Teresa were both 60-year-old women, and the three boarders didn't even know who we were and all of them were in a state of shock! It was, of course, very shocking for the three of us too, but we had to try to overcome our fears for the others' sake. We did our best to be positive, and after lots of prayer, songs, reading from the Bible and encouragement from us, they started to become more optimistic about the whole situation. After two days they were all released except Sari. They also let Victoria out, so for the next week, just the three of us were there, Kay, Sari, and myself.
It was very depressing being in that cramped cell for the first ten days. We were only allowed out to go to the bathroom, which was difficult in itself, since an official would have to come accompany us, and often we would be obliged to wait for hours. We had to use the policemen's bathroom, which was extremely filthy. The lack of hygiene kept us very much in prayer for the Lord's protection. Other people under arrest also used the bathroom, including a man who had AIDS.
It was very cold and uncomfortable; sleeping was also difficult as our cell was in front of the kitchen, where the officers would cook and eat at one or two a.m., By law the lights had to be left on at all times. We had enough healthful food, thanks to the unfailing visits of friends of The Family who came by twice a day.
Sharing our faith in jail
We had many opportunities inside the jail at the police station to witness--explaining about our faith with others--and a great part of our time there was actually spent doing this. As the police became more fascinated by us their visits became more frequent. This led to many deep personal talks with them about our beliefs and way of life. The deputy station commander was a very dear gentleman who came by a few times each day to chat with us and make sure we were as comfortable as he could make us.
One night he came over to our cell and asked for prayer because he had such a bad headache. He confessed that he's tired of all the corruption that the police are faced with each day. His men adore him, as he has a father's love for them and takes time with them, eating with them nightly and making sure they are well cared for. He even brought his little daughter to the police station to meet us. One night we were reading our Bible (we only had one small New Testament in Spanish) when a police officer asked me if we were feeding ourselves. I thanked him for his concern and mentioned that our friends were taking good care of us by bringing food. He said, "I mean, are you feeding yourself with God's Word?" He turned out to be an evangelical Christian, and when he saw how hard it was for us to read the tiny lettering of our Bible in the poor lighting, he immediately brought us his own Bible to read, and showed us photos of his family. He was very kind and reassuring, and told us that he was praying for us.
Another gentlemanly officer was very attentive to our needs and would offer to carry notes back and forth for us to the people on the outside (which wasn't normally allowed). One night he said: "I wish people like you were here always. It's changed the whole police station! It's so calm and peaceful!--Such a change. This place is usually like hell, it's like being in hell. But now it's totally different!"
There was also an official who would listen attentively to our talks, but he said he wasn't sure if he believed us or not. The Family men who had also been detained (13 in total) were in cells on the other side of the police station. They had been singing hymns and other songs in harmony and this official was enchanted with the song "Amazing Grace". He asked them to sing it repeatedly, opening all the doors in the halls so that we could also hear it, and requested I write down the words to the song for him so that he could sing it himself!
Singing turned out to be a real key during those difficult moments when fears loomed as great giants. As we would start to sing, we could feel God's grace miraculously increasing our faith and courage. "To them that have no might, He increaseth strength!" (Isaiah 40:29.) We were later to find ourselves in some pretty terrifying situations, but as we sang hymns and Psalms, He never failed to give us the courage to trust Him fully for the victory even in the face of seeming disaster.
A young long-haired boy, disillusioned with society, was painting the police station and we spent many hours witnessing to him. He had to confess that he admired us for being willing to give our lives for our beliefs and said that he had never met people like us before. He would bring us newspapers, as well as food, hot water, and notes.
A life changed in the midst of suffering
Although Sari likes The Family, she has had some reservations about us in the past, and always seemed to be scrutinizing us. At first she had a few attacks of nerves, leading to spurts of anger. She didn't want to read the Bible and mostly just chatted with others in our cell.
However, as the days went by, Sari began participating in our daily devotions, which usually consisted of reading a chapter or two from the Bible. She also read the Bible on her own and as time went on she also started praying with us. We would each take a turn, and she prayed very heartfelt, sincere prayers. The last week she was with us, she witnessed as much as we did, and fervently defended our cause.
It touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes to see this 60-year-old woman suffering persecution with us--no longer complaining or resentful about it, but proudly defending the truth, God bless her! Doubtless her reward will be great in Heaven.
Our first day in court
When we were taken to court for the first time, we were handcuffed as we went out and accompanied by four policemen. These policemen who accompanied us expressed their regret over having to handcuff us and apologized repeatedly saying they were all certain that we would be released shortly. One, the father of six children, tried to protect us from the press. He confessed to me that he felt sick inside after handcuffing Sari. He said he thought that was a shameful act and she reminded him of his mother, and he felt it was a total injustice.
We waited long hours and when we were finally called, the questions were very basic. My impression was that this was a mere formality. The typical questions, "Who are the leaders, how do we support ourselves, how do we celebrate weddings, what is the typical age minors get married at, do we discriminate against any racial groups (Ha!--To this I answered that we were the ones being discriminated against), do we read the writings of The Children of God, do we punish our children, etc.
The woman who took my answers lied unashamedly at every turn. I asked for my lawyer to be present; she claimed that he had never presented himself at court at any time, and she assigned me a court-appointed lawyer. My lawyer, I found out later, was right down the hall and had asked for me several times. He had also been lied to and told that I wasn't there.
When the woman finished typing my answers and gave the form to me to sign, I saw she had twisted several points I had made, trying to make them say the opposite of what I had intended! I had a hard time getting her to correct them, but she finally did. It was obvious that there were no means they wouldn't resort to, to accomplish their purpose.
The judge himself denied me permission to speak with my lawyer. At that point, three of the police started talking amongst themselves, obviously indignant about his order refusing me contact with my lawyer. Later, on their own initiative, they disobeyed the judge's orders and took me to an office in the jurisdiction of another judge and let me spend 20 minutes with my lawyer. The uniformed police in this situation (not prison guards) treated us well at all times, and most of them were favoring us, despite the smear campaign in the press. It was obvious that they were simply following orders that they found disagreeable.
After we all waited for many hours, we were taken back to the jail at the police station. While we were waiting, John, one of our missionaries from France told me about his interrogation, at which Judge Marquevich had been present. Apparently the judge lost his self-control and started hollering at him: "Do you believe in the Virgin Mary? Do you recognize the Pope?" It sounded like the Holy Inquisition!
There was one particularly obnoxious male guard from the prison who always acted very tough and inflexible and downright uncaring. He sat in the front of the police van on the way to court, but on the way back, it was his turn to stay in the back with us and two other guards. The day had been tough at court and the situation had been quite overwhelming, so we started to sing and praise the Lord in song. A calm filled our hearts. Unbeknownst to us, this hard, young guard was observing us closely. When we finally noticed him, we stopped singing. He begged, "Oh, please don't stop for me! Please continue," he insisted. We sang a few more songs for him before we arrived. Thank the Lord that God's Spirit is powerful enough to touch even the hardest heart!
We heard that Sari had made a glowing statement, in total support of The Family. She came back shining! A few days later, she was released, which brought us great joy!
Back to court a second time
By now Kay and myself were joined by another Family member, Jackie Roberts, who was arrested along with her husband right after appearing on a television program where they had been denouncing the injustices being perpetrated against The Family members and children. We were then called to court again--we had already read in the papers that Judge Marquevich had raided our home a second time and held a press conference in front of it, at which time he declared that due to the serious nature of the crimes, we would not be freed pending our trial. However, on the radio the night before, it had been announced that we were to be released and all the policemen at the station had also told us that they had heard from "inside sources" that we would be released. Nevertheless, the Lord prepared our hearts. We had had a sleepless night, and felt that something heavy was coming! We did not expect any highly favorable news, though we prayed desperately for the best.
A huge crowd was gathered at the courthouse when we arrived. We were immediately informed that requests for our provisional release, filed by our lawyers, had been denied. We each signed the notification of this with the words, "I appeal." Then instead of being returned to the police station, where we should have remained while an appeals court decided on the judge's denial of our provisional release, we were asked to wait at the court. We waited for several hours, until finally a few officials from the court came down with the prosecutor and told us all that the judge had just finished a resolution whereby we were all to be placed in prison, since "ample proof" had been found of our guilt. We were not told what this "proof" was, and still hadn't been properly informed of the charges. Some of us had still not been told the charges or read our rights even after being detained for 10 days!
The few of us who had heard the "charges", heard them only because we insisted on being informed. The charges were so ridiculous it was almost unbelievable: multiple rape, slavery, conspiracy, discrimination--and the list seemed endless. We were told to sign the document, confirming our notification of the same, which we refused to sign. The court officials were visibly distraught over our united refusal. The court officials and police ran in and out of the area where we were being held. The court officials spoke to us again, but this time they lost control and angrily told us that we would be taken to prison, whether we signed or not. We continued affirming with one voice that we would not sign such an atrocious document filled with false accusations. They were shocked at our firmness and conviction, and finally drew up a new document, which witnesses had to sign, stating that we had been notified, but had refused to sign.
This was doubtless a precedent for them, as normally people sign these papers, since they don't have any bearing on subsequent appeals. However, we all felt because of principle, we shouldn't cooperate in any way. As was typical of the trickery and illegal procedures which surrounded this whole operation, our lawyer hadn't been advised of this new resolution to imprison us, as is standard procedure. It wasn't until after he left, that they slapped it down.
Meanwhile, over 50 representatives from the press had waited outside the courthouse for over 6 hours. The judge's first secretary, Dr. Sica, went out and gave a press conference, announcing all their horrible false charges of rape, etc, etc. Another of the judge's secretaries gave us two photocopies of this resolution, which mostly contained a summary of the so-called victims of abuse, Abigail B.'s declaration, and reports of supposed psychological disturbances in two or three of our kids. It was so disgusting that we couldn't even read it at that point. The magnitude of what was happening was too great.
Transported to prison
The Police Commissioner, Juan Carlos Rebollo, was there in person, to organize our transportation. The moment arrived for us to leave the courthouse and face the press who were massed outside. They sent us women out first. Our hands were handcuffed behind our back, which is an unusual procedure with women. Our men were horrified and protested. The atmosphere was very intense. Fear started to grip me, as we prepared to leave. I started to sing the song "God Is Our Refuge and Strength." Soon we were all singing. The atmosphere in the jail area of the court was overpowering. Rebollo bowed his head in shame and looked immensely uncomfortable. We all sang, "Amazing Grace" before we were taken out to the prison truck.
As we walked out, the press turned on us like ravenous dogs, attacking from every side! It was like being thrown to the lions! Thank the Lord, He helped us to continue to proclaim the truth of our innocence, and not let ourselves be intimidated. "I will deliver thee in that day, saith the Lord; and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid" (Jeremiah 39:17). Our knees were trembling, but not our faith! The back of the police van was divided into cramped compartments with little air. It was a frightening, oppressive place. Because we were so many, they put two of us in some of these cells that were hardly big enough for one person.
We continued singing loudly in the prison truck until we were all loaded. Finally we left, not knowing what to expect next. One of our men was left unconfined in the central passage of the truck, and he quoted us passages of Scripture and portions of the Daily Might devotional book that he had memorized. He also attempted to fan air into our tiny cells.
Solitary confinement in the maximum security prison
As we climbed down from the truck, at the Palacio de Justica prison in the center of Buenos Aires, over 50 male guards with machine guns glared menacingly at us from the courtyard perimeter. This prison was nothing less than a concrete hell, an endless maze of windowless halls and iron bars. In our presence the guards were warned to be careful of us, since we were "dangerous criminals". After a long wait we were each placed in separate windowless solitary confinement cells. Our few possessions were taken away from us--even toilet paper, Bibles, and coats were removed. We were then subjected to a degrading physical search and treated worse than animals and left alone for the rest of the night.
I had already heard that child abuse is considered the worst crime by other prisoners. Many people accused of this crime have been killed by the other inmates. The guards shared those prejudices, so there was no doubt in any of our minds and hearts that we were entering into a very dangerous situation. God was going to be our only salvation.
By morning I had broken down in tears crying out to God for help. I didn't know what would become of my son, nor myself. This place seemed like hell and fears loomed like giants on every side, driving me to the Lord for my solace and help. I later found out that Kay, Jackie, and the men went through similar experiences.
In the morning, as I lay weeping in my cell, I looked up and right in front of me on the wall of this tiny cell were the words: "Jesus saved me when my boat was sinking." At that moment, the formerly gruff woman prison guard opened the door of my cell and said; "Please don't cry. Just keep fighting. It's all going to work out. I'm an Evangelical Christian." She brought me food and water. I hadn't eaten in over a day.
The three of us were taken to the cell block where we were to be incarcerated. Needless to say, we were praying to be together in the same cell and separate from the rest of the prisoners. We also prayed against fear of the unknown which lay ahead. We were ordered into another horrible cell--this one without windows or light. Again we went without food for the entire day. We were so happy to be reunited, though, and agreed that our terrible dark cell wasn't unbearable, as long as we could be together.
We went through another degrading prison check, were given back a few of our things, underwent registration and fingerprinting, and were finally led to the cell where we would be staying in the prison. To our dismay, we were not allowed to take our Bibles! Actually, we weren't allowed to take one piece of paper with writing on it. We were told that they would see about returning our Bibles. In spite of repeated requests, they didn't give them back to us for many weeks.
The three of us were finally ushered up to our cell, which turned out to be in a wing of the prison hospital, used for isolating prisoners from the rest of the penal population. It looked like heaven after all the hell we'd just been through! Unlike the filthy places we had been held in before--some of which had no windows or light--this room was brightly lit. It had beds with mattresses, a bathroom with hot water, windows and a small patio. The walls were tiled and everything was clean. After living for nearly two weeks in unsanitary conditions, lacking even the basics of human necessities, we all praised the Lord for His care of us.
Four other women were already living there, as they were also isolated from the prison population for different reasons. Shortly after our arrival, the deputy director of the prison and another prison official came to meet us and give us a rundown of what to expect. He was very blunt, and warned us that, due to all the press coverage and the nature of the charges, the entire prison population was against us and we were being isolated for our personal safety. He also warned us that we could be exposed to verbal or physical harassment. He advised us to not pay any attention to verbal harassment, and to call the cell-keeper if we were physically assaulted. Needless to say, we spent that first night praying and claiming the Lord's peace and protection.
One week later, two other women from The Family, Sophia Dow and Flor Bojorquez were also arrested and joined us in our cell. But the situation with the four other women in the room seemed to worsen each day, as some dreadful articles came out in the newspaper and on the radio. Our four cellmates were threatened by other women in the prison that they would get hurt if they continued to live with us, so the tension mounted. They wouldn't let us pray in a voice above a whisper, or use the patio adjoining our room. We didn't have our Bibles to read, and if we ever tried to sing, these girls threatened us.
Peace from Heaven in the midst of hell
The threats, coupled with the serious legal situation we faced, and the anxiety over the well-being of our children, seemed at times too great a weight to carry. But, thank the Lord, He always pulled us through. We started "Quote Time", reviewing every Scripture or faith-building story we could remember! Our prayers were in whispers, but heartfelt.
We asked ourselves if we were getting into the final stages of the Endtime, as it seemed like there was nothing worse that could happen to us, short of being beaten or martyred! Actually martyrdom looked easier at times than the conditions we were living in during those first days in prison!
We soon discovered that even though we had no earthly possessions, not even many of our basic needs, no Bibles, no children--everything stripped away, that we still had Jesus and we came to realize more and more that He is all we needed. Every verse, every song, every prayer carried more meaning than it ever had before. We had a little session of counting our blessings and were thrilled to see how many there were!--Things we often take for granted: a hot shower, a meal, a bed with sheets, sunlight, the little sparrow that lives inside our cell, and best of all--to be together and to have such a wonderful Family and Jesus and His angels watching over us, keeping us safe in the hollow of His hand.--"Our helper He, amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing."
About ten days after we arrived at the prison, the chaplain, a Catholic priest, came to visit us. We asked him for a Bible and three hours later, we had a full Catholic Bible in Spanish. We were so thankful! I also asked the Canadian consul for an English Bible and they brought a Spanish/English Gideon's New Testament, but the guards refused to let us have it.
Assaulted in our cell
October 1st, 1993
Many nights, there are fights in the cell blocks until the guards go in with rubber clubs or high pressure hoses to break them up. Child abuse is considered the worst crime in the prison and there have been cases where prisoners have been killed or totally disfigured because they were convicted of this. Since we have been accused of this, we are under very strict protective custody and we can never be left alone with other prisoners, except the four we live with. It's a major operation for us to go anywhere, as all the halls have to be cleared of any other prisoners for us to pass and we are never let out for exercise. As the tension mounted with the other inmates in our cell, we prayed repeatedly for the Lord to deliver us from this difficulty. One day we were called to court, and when we returned, we found that they had ransacked our few belongings and thrown our mattresses on the floor.
One of them pushed me up against the wall. I thought she was going to hit me. I began talking to her softly, asking what was wrong, trying to calm her down. She told me that we had to leave, that they couldn't handle the threats they were receiving any more. It was a very tense moment, as another girl, Heidi, a Korean/American being held on drug charges in our cell, started screaming that she couldn't stand to hear us pray or sing, and she didn't want us to ever talk to her.
We asked the prison guards for a change. Three different prison officials or jefes came by, explaining that a change would be impossible, due to a lack of space. Things calmed down a little after this, though it remained a very tense, uneasy situation. The following Saturday, more unfavorable articles came out in the newspapers and the women were up in arms again.
The leader of our cell, a woman we eventually won over, finally put her foot down with the other girls. These girls had filed a complaint against us and the Jefe of Internal Security told them they would be sent back with the common prisoners if they didn't stop complaining and give the situation a chance to work.
More human rights violations
For some inexplicable reason I had my visiting rights cut off. Shortly afterwards the other girls lost theirs also. I complained to the Canadian consul who called the court and the director of the prison. The court denied having issued such an order and the director of the prison claimed that the prison policy is that if people have living relatives (never mind that ours lived thousands of miles away!), they can't receive visits from friends (a total lie!) and that's why we hadn't received any visitors. The other women got the same answer from the American consul.
Several weeks later we received a very encouraging visit from the President of the Federal Appeals Court who now has jurisdiction over our case. We liked the man.--He seemed like a just, open-minded person. He came to ask us if we had any problem with the prison. He was shocked to hear we hadn't been allowed to have our Bibles or scripture tapes. He said this would change immediately and that they (the appeals court) had no intention of denying us our Bibles. We had every right to study the Bible, he assured us.
Then I told him that Judge Marquevich had sent an order denying us visiting rights with anyone who isn't a direct relative. I explained that we, as foreigners, don't have direct relatives in the country. He had a hard time believing such an order had been issued, but the prison official accompanying him was also in charge of visits, and this man confirmed that he had in his office the document from Judge Marquevich. It was clear to the appeals court judge that we were being discriminated against. He said he would rectify the situation immediately.
While still in the police jail, Robert and Kay Robb were forced to undergo blood tests in a ridiculous attempt to prove they were not the parents of their children. They were informed that the court wouldn't be allowed to do blood tests on the children unless Robert and Kay gave permission for them to do so. Because the tests were totally unwarranted and a plain violation of human rights, Robert and Kay refused. The American consul, our lawyer, and a court official had been present when they denied permission to do the tests on their children.
It turns out that later, the court officials approached the children, flashed a paper supposedly signed by their parents, and said that their parents authorized the tests. They then proceeded with the tests.
John and Jackie Roberts were also ordered to do blood tests. Dr. Sica asked them to talk to their children, who had totally refused to do these tests. He had orders, he said, to do the testing whether they submitted to it or not, and without their parents' reassurance it would be a traumatic experience for them as the needle could snap, etc. Jackie distinctly heard Dr. Sica tell the doctor to take three tubes of blood from each child instead of the two the test called for. A nurse actually sat on one of the children while samples were taken! After that ordeal was over, which was dreadfully traumatic for the poor kids, they handcuffed John and Jackie in front of the kids and led them away. This further frightened the poor children who cried and cried and kept calling for mommy and daddy to come back.
We've seen them use several tactics to harass us and our children psychologically, trying to break us down. They obviously don't know much about The Family and our Lord, as all these things just make us want to fight all the harder and hate the corruption in this damned system all the more! This whole experience has made it clearer than ever that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6).
"The peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
October 13, 1993, after six weeks in prison:
Each day that passes finds us more thankful for every blessing in The Family--everyday things one can get accustomed to! Today, for the first time since being imprisoned, we were able to hear the "Fear Not" tape of Scriptures in song. As we passed the headphones around that our cellmates had lent us, tears flowed down each face as we heard the beautiful music and precious Bible promises.--Moments of heaven that thrilled, inspired and strengthened us! "He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me" (Psa. 55:18).
The Lord also sent many other blessings this week. We received a booklet of Bible verse promises, audio tapes, and also a visit from other Family members last Saturday! He's blessed us with His protection and kept us through many trials and tribulations. We're learning many precious lessons about resting in the Lord, patiently waiting for Him to work, and facing down fear in situations where the threat is real with nothing to hold on to but His promises.
Rumor has it that this prison, built on top of a cemetery, is tormented by dark foul spirits of the evil dead. Together with the evil spirits of some of the prisoners themselves, it's quite a stronghold of Satanic forces. Thank the Lord, the weakest saint on his knees is stronger than anything that the Devil, the enemy of our soul, can muster!
Judge Marquevich has also put us under "maximum security". There are only four other prisoners in this jail considered dangerous to that degree. Of course, that has raised even more prejudice against us on the part of the wardens. When other prisoners have seen us outside our sector, they have threatened to beat, maim or kill us. God's marvellous protection becomes more obvious every day, and we continue in the peace that He gives us! "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:14).
A lot of the wardens and jefes don't like us and make no secret about it. Last week they threatened three times to have us placed in solitary confinement for little things of no importance. Several of them have harassed us verbally. One of the supervisors (who actually is quite nice to us) one day whispered in my ear, as she served our food: "I don't understand why they treat you so harshly, I just don't understand!"
These prejudices seem to come directly from the judge and the prison director. The kind of orders issued by the judge are enough to convince anyone that we have committed heinous crimes.
An angel in our cell
The authorities returned Flor's 6-month-old baby Marieta. They took the baby away after Flor was arrested, and this coupled with the fact that her three other children have been held separately from the other Family children, caused Flor great anguish. She has not been told where her other children are in spite of all the pleas for this information from her and her husband, who was not jailed.
A few days after Marieta arrived, a message came from Judge Marquevich, ordering Flor to give her baby to relatives! Flor broke down in tears as she explained to the jefe that the baby is sick, breastfeeding and needs her! The jefe was very touched. Prison regulations are that all children under the age of two are kept with their mothers. Only if the prisoner has been condemned or is considered so dangerous that they would harm their own children are they separated. This jefe appealed to the prison director, and the whole affair was dropped.
Marieta was sick when she came to us and got sicker as the days passed. Finally it was necessary to take her to the hospital, which required permission from the judge. This was granted, but only on the condition that Flor be taken handcuffed. This is atrocious, and totally contrary to prison regulations! Mothers with babies in arms are never handcuffed, as they could easily drop the baby if the vehicle were to lurch forward or brake suddenly. The next day, she had to return to the hospital. This time Flor said that if anything happened to the baby because of the handcuffing, she would sue the prison. The jefe removed the handcuffs.
Little Marieta has also been a key to improving our relations with our cell mates, as she has smiled and charmed her way into everyone's hearts! An angel in disguise! This little child has certainly led the way and now has everyone wrapped around her sweet little finger.
Answers to prayer for our prison cell mates
The situation within our cell has improved enormously, though we always need to keep our guard up. When we first arrived, as explained previously, our four cellmates were less than enthusiastic about our presence. They avoided us and several continually uttered insults and veiled threats. This situation worsened when one of them was threatened by other prisoners for having allowed us to stay in their cell.
Terror is, of course, a strong driving force here. These girls have suffered from a lot of brutality. When they were informed that we would be staying and told to make the best of the situation, they decided to do just that, doubtless in answer to our prayers. From that point on, the insults ceased and things started changing slowly but surely.
Despite the fact that all of us in this cell are in protective custody, our situation is much more extreme than that of the other girls. The head girl in our cell, Mary, was very nervous and upset. She was not being allowed out of the cell to work because of the dangerous situation our presence in the prison had created. As things improved a few weeks later, she was able to start working again.
Actually, when the other girls aren't around or late at night when they're sleeping, Mary has often called me over to her bed to chat. This has opened the door wide to talk about our group, God, and spiritual things. Last week she prayed and asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior. She saw us with the "Prayer Vigil Victories" booklet and asked me what it was. I explained to her that it is a collection of promises from the Bible arranged under various topics. When I showed her the section on "Deliverance from Bonds", she was very interested and said, "I'd make a good disciple, you know!" She's turned into a precious, special girl, very charming. A lot of the jefes and prisoners are also fond of her and come to visit her. She's in prison for trafficking in drugs and weapons. She doesn't get any visitors from the outside and is depressed after being here for two years.
The girl who at first seemed to be most bitterly opposed to us is a Korean/American girl, Heidi. She was arrested on drug charges when on a one-day stopover in Argentina. We prayed many desperate prayers for her, as she constantly insulted us--even the baby! She seemed to be seething with poison and hate for us. However, after praying for her day after day, she started to change.
Heidi was born in Korea, and adopted and taken to the States at three years of age. At 16, her parents deemed her incorrigible and sent her away to a Christian boarding school. She had an experience with the Lord there and was born again, but she has since strayed from her faith. She is now 26.
Now she is knitting booties for the baby, and shares her books and newspapers with us. We have had many deep conversations with her, and a firm friendship has emerged. She has fallen in love with our sweet baby. We have to be discreet in our interaction with Mary and Heidi, since one of the other girls, Yolanda, is an atheist, quite bitter, hard and resentful. The fourth girl, Sonia, regularly communicates with her husband who has become an evangelical Christian while doing time in another prison. He preaches at her a lot in his letters, so she isn't too interested in hearing about the subject of religion from us.
Since these girls take tranquilizers and are depressed about being in prison, they tend to have extreme ups and downs. Things can get tense, especially when the baby wakes up early (they like to sleep in) or the toilet gets stopped up. (nine of us share the bathroom).
We have learned a lot in The Family about living with others, and this has been invaluable here--nine people and one baby in a room no bigger than 8 x 5 meters (26 x 16 feet). We also have learned to feel a lot of compassion and sympathy for these girls. They are deprived of their freedom, their children (two are mothers), and their other loved ones. They have waited for months or years just to be tried (none have been actually sentenced yet). They experience tremendous attacks of fear (fear of violence or harassment), without the assurance of God's Word or the training we in The Family have received. Nor do they have the support of concerned loved ones such as we receive from all our other Family members.
The two girls that have drawn close to us (Heidi and Mary) were called in and asked what we are like and what it's like living with us. Heidi was questioned by a judge. She said she had no complaints about us, and said that we're respectable people who read the Bible.
Mary was asked the same questions by the prison psychologist. She told him that we are good people, that we pray for them every day, and that she gets along with us very well. She also said that our baby is very dear to her heart, and that she has no doubt of our innocence.
(Four prison directors summoned Claire, and told her that she had been charged with a misdemeanor for breaking a prison rule--an accusation based on an untrue account. They threatened her with solitary confinement, among other things, and the situation looked quite bleak. Finally, Claire was able to speak to an official who listened to her side of the story.)
After consulting our lawyer, we wrote the president of the appeals court about the continual harassment we are subjected to here. Judge Marquevich is largely responsible for this animosity, and still sends orders regarding us. If we were to be taken out of protective custody, but for the grace of God, we could become martyrs. If we were "accidentally" transferred to one of the cell blocks, there are many hardened murderers and criminals here who have threatened to kill us and even kill the women living with us for not having kicked us out of the cell.
Actually, when we first arrived, the inmates were so enraged at our presence that there was talk of a mutiny in the prison. A few days ago I received a letter from Canada, and upon opening it, I discovered it was actually a horrible anonymous hate letter.
This kind of fight is new for us all. The hard times we have previously experienced in our lives as missionaries have not been so drastic, with such life and death consequences, nor have they been so prolonged. We have weeks where almost daily we suffer fresh attacks of harassment or have found ourselves in threatening situations. The Bible has become so much clearer to us now, as we are experiencing firsthand what it means to be surrounded by enemies. "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock. I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:3,5,13).
Thank the Lord, He is so faithful to bring the victory in each situation and always fulfills His promises. Hallelujah! "When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is with me" (Psalm 56:9). These are such precious lessons! Although we'd suffered persecution before, I don't think any of us really understood how King David of ancient Israel and writer of most of the Bible's Book of Psalms felt, surrounded by enemies seeking his life. Now we face some major battle every day here in prison, and we are learning how to fight through to victory!
Wardens touched by the Lord
October 25th, 1993, after nearly two months in prison:
Things have been much more tranquil for us this week. I was also able to talk to the deputy director of the prison, who is in charge while the director has taken a leave of absence for a few weeks. Prison personnel are being much kinder. We witnessed to two wardens who have met our children and were very deeply touched by them. One warden said: "Your children are so beautiful, you must be fine people! God will help you be reunited with your little ones soon!" Comments like this are so encouraging.
Today, an older lady was with us during our visit with the children, and she was visibly moved. As the children played and talked with us, she watched with a big smile on her face. She prayed with Rachel, Jackie's daughter, to ask Jesus into her heart. As she brought us back to our cell, she kept commenting on what beautiful, polite children we have. "This is a terrible situation," she said, "but God willing, you'll all be out of here soon." She kept wishing us good luck, and stood outside the door of our cell, saying goodbye to us repeatedly.
Another sweet young warden commented on the beautiful picture of Jesus I have over my bed and shyly asked if she could have a copy. She was very taken with the peaceful, happy expression on His face. This same girl talked to me outside the room another day, and asked me what Bible we read and how it differs from the Catholic Bible. Then she asked to borrow my Bible and said she would like to learn to read it the way we do.
Each day, it's so encouraging to see people being won over little by little, despite the enormous prejudices that existed against us at the beginning.
We've learned to keep witnessing even when the spirit is overwhelmingly antagonistic and it appears that the only reactions we receive are hate and rejection! The Lord promises that "Love never fails" and He can't fail, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles or how great the trial!
Winning hard hearts
Being here is a little bit like riding a roller coaster--at times things go well, at other times tensions are high. Yolanda, the proclaimed atheist, is accused of murdering her child. She is very bitter and resentful, and claims she's innocent. She hasn't even been tried yet, though she's been here for nine months. She sometimes gets very upset with us when the baby wakes up crying or when other problems arise.
However, we've seen the Lord working in her life, in answer to our desperate prayers. Her attitude towards us has changed enormously, but she still has very noticeable ups and downs. Many times, she's been so difficult that we've felt tempted to give up on her. Each time we've felt this way, however, the Lord has reminded us how far He went for lost sinners; He laid down His life for them, and wept for the hardness of their hearts. And so He leads us to keep praying for her, and keep loving her.
One day this week, the baby was sick and cried the whole time, starting at 6:30 in the morning. Later, Yolanda got the other girls together and was angry and complaining up a storm about not being able to sleep. I interrupted their conversation, apologizing for the inconvenience, but also reminding her that Marieta is just a baby and I was trying to keep her quiet in the morning. (I try to take her during those early hours so Flor, who is up with her in the night, can get extra rest.) She was hard and complaining that Flor should be sent to a cell with other mothers, where they're prepared to have babies, etc. Flor started to cry at this point, and Yolanda looked like she was about to cry herself.
Eventually, she opened up her heart and confessed that we aren't the problem. She has nothing personally against us, she said, but the problem is her difficult character. She hits a pressure point, and then explodes. We comforted her, and let her know how deeply we sympathize with her. We understand her situation and her anger and bitterness. She's lived through horrors here all on her own, whereas we have had each other to lean on.
At that she broke down and cried. She began to share a lot of her experiences and her inner feelings--her anger at the injustices and corruption of the prison system, her hopelessness (Yolanda insists that she was framed), the anguish she feels when she hears Marieta cry and remembers that she is accused of killing her own baby. I told her we pray for her every day, that justice will be done in her case.
"If there is a God, He needs to get you out of here soon. You don't belong in this hell," she said. At another point in the conversation she said: "If there's a God, I hope He answers your prayers."
We know that the Lord has a purpose for our being here with each one of these woman, so we pray daily for them to learn to know and love Him, so He can bring about major changes in their lives.
The cell leader growing in faith
The leader of our cell, Mary, has been reading the Daily Might devotional book we gave her and listening to the "Fear Not" Scripture song tape. We invited her to join us one time when we were going to have a visit with other Family members in a certain area of the prison. Since she doesn't ever receive visitors and was very sad on Mother's Day when her daughters didn't come to visit her, she was very excited about the idea and was even granted permission. The next day, however, some of the others in the room pressured her to not go with us. Mary felt it would cause a big problem in the room if she went, so she decided against it.
She was very disappointed. I told her we would keep praying that she'd be able to come. She said, "I wish I could come to your prayer meetings! I really want to, but the other girls won't let me. It would help me so much and give me spiritual strength. But the other girls are going to say you're brainwashing me, and the situation would be difficult for me here. I would really like to pray with you."
When we first arrived, she confided to me that she was planning to go to another country after her release to continue the same activities that landed her in prison. However, during this last conversation, she said, "I want a change in my life. When I get out, I want to start a new life. I've learned so much here from you and gone through such changes." The Lord is changing her day by day, since she asked Jesus to come into her heart and life.
She has been a wonderful help and wise counsellor to us. Besides being very sharp, she knows the ropes of prison life very well and is faithful to warn us of any pitfalls she sees ahead for us.
To be continued.
PERSECUTION ENDTIME NEWS No.4
Published by The Family -- An International Christian Missionary Church Copyrighted June, 1994, by World Services, Zurich, Switzerland.
Falsely Accused and Jailed in Argentina - Part 2
By Susan Claire Borowick
In this issue of the PEN we are concluding an account by 33-year-old Canadian missionary Susan Claire Borowick, of her arrest and imprisonment in Argentina. On September 1, 1993, she and 20 other members of the evangelical Christian missionary church, The Family, were arrested in pre-dawn raids. Nearly 140 of their children, including Claire's 11-year-old son, Steven, were detained. The arrests were the culmination of years of enmity by certain elements of Argentine society, led most visibly by the anti-"cult" organisations SPES and FAPES. Disgruntled former members of The Family were flown to Argentina to provide "evidence" in the case.
On December 13, 1993, the Appeals Court of San Martin, which assumed jurisdiction over the case, dismissed the testimony of these former members, stating that they "portray an obvious tendency to intentionally exaggerate accounts of past events, to the point of resorting to falsehood, that having been proven beyond doubt." Claire and all the other Family members arrested with her were ordered released.
However, as this issue of the PEN goes to press, the case against the missionaries has yet to be completely closed. Judge Roberto Marquevich, who initiated the case, was declared incompetent by the appellate justices, and the Buenos Aires Bar Association is backing impeachment proceedings against him. These proceedings are now wending their way through the Argentine congress.
From Claire's letters and diary written while in prison, there emerges a story of injustice and cruelty, but also of faith, courage and outgoing concern for others in the midst of suffering--and of God's unfailing help to His children in their time of need.
In the previous issue of the PEN, Claire recounted how she and her colleagues were arrested and held incommunicado for 10 days without being formally charged. When they were formally charged, bail was set at $115 million, a move by Judge Marquevich which ensured the missionaries would have to stay in prison pending trial. Claire and four other women missionaries, Kay, Sophia, Jackie, and Flor with her six-month-old baby, were sent to Buenos Aires' notorious Ezeiza Prison. There, due to the highly sensational and lurid publicity their case had received, they immediately became objects of hatred and threats from both prison officials and inmates. Slowly they were able to win the respect of the four other women they shared their cell with, but many dangers remained to be faced. We pick up the story after they have already spent two months in prison:
November 3, 1993 If you've never been in one, it's hard to understand what prison is like. It's an underworld where life is cheap. Many inmates facing life sentences feel they have nothing to lose, and are capable of maiming and mutilating others without compunction. Last week, jealous cellmates beat a girl to death the day before she was to be released. Considering the open prejudice of nearly everyone here, from the inmates to the director, we must pray desperately and unceasingly for the Lord's protection.
Our Lives in Peril
On Wednesday night, a lesbian duo who are considered to be amongst the most ruthless, aggressive and dangerous of all the prisoners here, waltzed into our cell with all their things. After having committed violent acts wherever they were moved in the prison, they had been placed in solitary confinement. Now after their release from solitary they were unexpectedly moved into our cell.
We could see the fear on the faces of Mary, Yolanda, Heidi and Sonia, our four cellmates. Something sinister had to be going on for the prison directors to have sent these two women into our cell when we are all supposed to be in protective custody. Mary went pale! "Deborah, the pretty one," Mary explained, "is an `agent' for the heads of the prison. If they sent her to our sector, it is to carry out a mission. That means serious trouble."
Deborah had been convicted of brutally murdering two elderly people with a razor, yet here in our cell she has a knife! Someone in authority must be looking the other way for this to happen. She's facing a life sentence--a short life, no doubt, as she has an active case of AIDS. With nothing more to lose, she has become an extremely hardened person.
The other one, Cristina, is a butch girl with short hair, tattoos and prominent scars. Many of the inmates' scars, we've been told, are from self-inflicted razor wounds, meant to impress and intimidate others.
Deborah and Cristina were filthy and had with them a pet toad, which they keep in a box with rotten food. The toad doesn't eat the rotten food but the flies that are attracted to it. Within minutes, flies buzzed in every corner of our cell.
Mary tried to find out what was going on. "Don't worry," they told her, "we're not here to cause you or Heidi any trouble! We have a different mission." As far as Mary was concerned, that pretty much narrowed it down to Yolanda (accused of killing a child) and myself (accused of being a "cult leader" responsible for all of the worst crimes against children). Mary and the others warned us to never be caught alone in the bathroom by either of these women. As Deborah and Cristina were due to leave for court at 4:30 the next morning, two of our cellmates decided to stay awake on watch until they were gone.
Deborah and Cristina didn't go to sleep either. When they weren't having sex together, they sat on their beds and talked.
Yolanda, the professed atheist, implored us to pray for safe-keeping. Repeatedly, Kay, Sophia, Jackie, Flor and I reassured her and the others that we were, claiming the Bible's many promises of protection, which God's children can invoke in such times. But even in the midst of this frightening situation we couldn't help but see this peril, as terrifying as it was for all of us, as a direct answer to our prayers for Mary, Heidi, Yolanda and Sonia. For the first time, they put aside all their differences and reservations to unite with us against a common danger. We talked into the night.
About 2:30, I opened my Bible to the Book of Psalms and my eyes fell on the following verses: "I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel against me, they devised to take away my life. But I trusted in Thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in Thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and them that persecute me." (Psalm 31:13-15.)
These verses so encouraged me that I read them to Sophia in a whisper. "What's going on?" Cristina yelled out in an aggressive tone.
Mary jumped to her feet and rushed to my bed. "Don't you stop praying! Don't let them stop you!" she said sternly.
"Don't worry," I assured her, "come hell or high water, we'll keep on praying and reading our Bibles."
At that, Mary went over and faced down Cristina and Deborah. "They pray and read the Bible. You'll just have to get used to it."
When the wardens came for Deborah and Cristina early in the morning we heaved a collective sigh of relief and physically and emotionally exhausted, we collapsed for a few hours of sleep.
The next day, the Canadian embassy called. I explained the situation and they sent someone to talk to the prison officials. The assistant director lamely contended that the pair had been placed in our cell because of "overcrowding". The authorities were well aware that mixing us with prisoners like Deborah and Cristina violated our protective custody. They also knew that the whole prison had been very much against us, and the other inmates were planning a riot or hunger strike if we weren't removed. They knew full well the danger they had placed us in.
A Threat Removed
All that day, reports filtered through to us that the prison was buzzing with the news of the transfer of these girls to our cell block. To our happy surprise, we learned that in answer to our prayers, some now believed that we were not as bad as everyone had been led to believe. A controversy raged over our new situation. One warden came to talk to Mary and told her that she was going to complain to the director that our rights were being violated. Our cell, she explained, is the quietest and best-behaved in the whole prison, a model of peaceful co-existence among disparate prisoners.
Another warden complained to her superior: "These new women are violent and filthy." Their place, this warden insisted, was not in a cell with a baby.
Meanwhile news had gotten through to our lawyer, who contacted the appeals court. This was probably the decisive factor. About dinner time, our desperate prayers were answered! Two jefes and two wardens came to move Deborah and Cristina. Deborah cursed them all and refused to move. For over an hour she stood her ground. (We had heard that tough old-timers like Deborah rule the roost in this prison.--And all that we were witnessing confirmed it.)
Then, for no apparent reason, she bounced out to our small patio where the rest of us were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the heated dispute inside, and announced that she had decided to leave. She said she was very tense and worked up and would probably get into trouble if she stayed.
Accepted by the Others
Within half an hour, they were gone. The relief was enormous. While washing every inch of our cell with bleach, the only disinfectant we had, we excitedly praised the Lord for delivering us and pointed out to the other women how speedily God had answered our prayers. They agreed wholeheartedly. Soon we were paired up, talking with our four cellmates, who were all much more receptive to our Christian message than they had been before all this happened. The barriers which had stood between us evaporated.
As we discussed how God answers prayer and cares for His own, Heidi exclaimed, "If your prayers for us to be released come true, you'd better make room for me in The Family! I may end up back in prison for being a Christian like you, but I'll join anyway!"
The next night they invited us to their table for mate (herbal tea) and torta fritas, a formal sign that they had finally accepted us. We had a beautiful time and even laughed together about the way they treated us when we first arrived. At one point Heidi said, "I don't want to go overboard with all this God business, but I believe He sent those two girls here to unite us all and draw us close."
They told about their fears of us, and we shared about our fears of them. We were aware of the basic situation when we moved in, but we never heard the details until they related them as we sat around the table that night.
Plans to Kill Us
They explained that when the other prisoners got word that we would be brought to this prison, they had conspired to riot, break into our room and kill us. That plan fell through when we were put in this top-security cell block. Next, the inmates discussed staging a hunger strike to gain further sympathy and support from prison authorities, whose cooperation they would need in order to get at us.
Once we moved in, one of the jefes informed Mary of the plan. When the time was right, she would come by and give a certain signal. Mary and the others were to lock themselves in the bathroom. Meanwhile the jefe would "accidentally" leave our door unlocked. Other convicts would then storm our cell block and do away with us. For some reason that never came about, so the other prisoners resorted to threatening Mary and the others for not dealing with us themselves.
After telling us all of this, they started sharing their deepest fears and the nightmarish experiences they have been through. Yolanda, the toughest of the group, finally opened up and explained how she had stopped believing in God as a result of all she has been through in prison.
Sonia comes from the sixties' drug culture, and was still a teenager during the military crackdown known as the Dirty War, during which many young people in Argentina disappeared. She never overcame her youthful drug addiction, and eventually both she and her husband ended up in prison. Their three children are distributed between relatives.
Mary stated that she now believes that the Lord can use her to reach others in the prison. If we get some tracts brought in, she wants to distribute them discreetly. She proudly pointed out that she hardly swears anymore. She's changed wonderfully since receiving the Lord, and is determined to make this the beginning of a whole new life.
A Miraculous Healing
The wing of the prison in front of ours is the hospital. A woman on Mary's work detail was hospitalized recently, following two heart attacks. She also suffers from convulsions. The second night after she arrived, she experienced severe convulsions which brought on another heart attack. Suddenly her room, which we can clearly see from our window, filled with doctors, nurses and wardens. We didn't know exactly what was going on, but we prayed aloud for her healing. To the doctors' surprise, she survived. Later, when this woman related this experience to Mary and Sonia, they excitedly told her that we had earnestly prayed for her. A few days afterwards, Jackie was able to comfort this suffering woman and pray for her.
Called to the Court
November 10, 1993
We've been incarcerated for 10 weeks now.
The other night after 12:00, I was awakened by a warden shining a flashlight in my face. The judge in San Isidro had summoned Kay and myself. For a moment, we were undecided whether we should comply, or refuse to appear without legal representation. The warden insisted on an answer. We prayed together and decided to go.
By five a.m., the warden was back to wake us. By eight o'clock we were downstairs, mixed with other prisoners. Lately, they've stopped isolating us from the other inmates in the hallways, which leaves us vulnerable to attack. The other day, a warden deliberately shouted out my name just as I was about to pass--unescorted--in front of about 15 prisoners. Outwardly, I managed to act quite natural as I smiled and greeted them with, "Good morning." Inwardly, I was praying up a storm! I know that the Lord is the only One Who can protect us, and I'm learning to lean fully on His grace to keep me.
This morning I reminded the warden that we were supposed to be isolated, so she directed us to a room apart. As we made our way to the other room, an enormous inmate made obscene gestures and threatened to kill us.
The other room turned out to be a solitary confinement cell, where we spent the next three hours. We had both been sick in bed the day before, and still felt awful.
The truck they transported us in would have been worthy of the master inquisitor, Torquemada himself. It had no windows or ventilation whatsoever. Instead of handcuffs, we were placed in iron chains and chained and padlocked to the floor. This made the narrow bench on which we perched even more uncomfortable. One thing made the long trip bearable--another prisoner was being transported with us, and we were able to talk to her about Jesus and salvation.
When we arrived at the courthouse, we were informed that we hadn't been summoned by Judge Marquevich, but by the other federal judge of San Isidro, Judge Bergessio. We knew nothing of this man and didn't know what to expect. The courthouse jail was full, so we were left to wait in the truck, parked in the summer sun, still chained and padlocked to the floor. As the hours crept by, we wondered if we would suffocate before we got out of that truck. When our last ounce of energy was gone, we doubled over and prayed that we wouldn't pass out. The other prisoner was half out of her mind with exhaustion. About 6:00 p.m., after over four hours in that stifling heat, we were taken out.
A New Judge
We were extremely weak from having eaten no more than an apple and a bit of water all day, as prisoners are not fed meals on the days they go to court. But the moment I walked into the judge's office, the most remarkable thing happened! I felt instantaneously revived! My headache, dizziness and weakness all vanished. I sensed that the Lord was about to do something special! (When it was Kay's turn to see the judge, the very same thing happened to her. It could only have been a miracle of God's grace!)
The judge was on the phone when I entered his chamber. As he looked up, his eyes widened, reflecting a look of pleasant surprise. I suppose I wasn't what he had imagined. When he saw that I had been brought before him in chains, he looked indignantly at the warden and signaled her to remove them. He offered me a chair and introduced himself as Judge Bergessio.
Still suspicious, I asked him if he was Judge Marquevich (whom we still had not met at this time). He looked offended.
"Why would you think that?" he asked.
I apologized, and began to recount to him all the traumatic experiences we had been subjected to over the previous ten weeks. "At this point," I said, "we never know what to expect!"
Judge Bergessio was cordial and concerned, a true gentleman. He listened attentively to my account, but was careful not to express any opinions of his own regarding our case.
I told him about our work, our life of faith, and our love for our children.
"What do you think of Argentina after all this?" he asked.
"I dearly love this country," I told him, "but it breaks my heart to see it once again succumb to repression, injustice, corruption and discrimination."
"Don't lose faith in my people," he answered. "It is true, we have a long way to go to attain the moral heights of some other countries like your own, but there are good people here who hold such ideals dear."
He asked me to dictate a statement confirming reports that eight of us women who were arrested during the raids on Family homes were held for over two days in a cell intended for a single prisoner. (Later some were released, but four of us continued in that same cell for eight more days.) He asked for my address to put on the declaration. I explained that our houses had been taken away, so I no longer had a home. After a moment of strained silence, he decided to list my last address.
Judge Bergessio seemed to absorb every word I said. He was the same way with Kay--interested, respectful, genuinely concerned and very gentlemanly. We hadn't been treated like that in two and a half months.
Kay also spent an hour with him, and broke down and wept as she told of her prison experiences and about her children.
She told me later, "I was praying the whole time, `Lord don't let me lose my composure.' But my emotions got the best of me. `We've been falsely accused, lied about and treated like criminals,' I told the judge. `They've taken our kids, destroyed our homes, stolen our goods, killed our pets. Now we are being subjected to the most degrading prison conditions. Why?' I was angry and broken at the same time."
Kay called me in to translate her declaration before she signed it. He was a bit indignant at this and expressed his disappointment that Kay didn't trust him. We apologized but explained, "We are forthright and relatively naive. Some people have taken advantage of that and are now slandering us atrociously." He then conceded that if he were in Kay's position, he would probably react the same way.
"Prison hasn't changed our faith, our conviction, or our desire to help others," we told him as our conversation drew to an end. "We try to view every situation that the Lord places us in as an opportunity to offer comfort and consolation to others. As long as we're in prison, we will continue to try to reach every prisoner and every guard we meet with God's Love."
A few days later, three of us, Flor, Sophia and I, were also called to talk to the prison psychologists. These psychologists were very eager to hear our side of the story, and this turned out to be another opportunity to explain our faith. One of them was especially sympathetic. She acknowledged that there is a lot of political pressure behind our case, and expressed her concern that we be released soon. She even dismissed the warden and walked us back to our cell block in order to spend a few more minutes with us.
Sophia was able to talk to one psychologist, an atheist, who was really intrigued. Sophia gave her an earful about the tremendous injustice, the suffering of our kids, the lies and those behind them. The psychologist was very interested in what made Sophia, a U.S. congressman's daughter, choose this way of life, so Sophia enthusiastically explained about her salvation experience, and subsequent decision to dedicate herself to a missionary life.
My Mother Joins the Battle
November 18, 1993.
My mother has flown down from Canada in order to try to help secure our release. Like most of my family, she is an agnostic. She has always been very open-minded with me, however, concerning my faith. At the age of about six, I found Jesus. From that time, I always expected to serve the Lord someday, somehow, and my mother never discouraged me. To the contrary, she taught me that I must follow my ideals, and respected my beliefs provided I didn't try to force them on her. After I became a missionary, she maintained this same position. She is also fond of and respects the many Family members she has met over the years.
She first learned that I was in prison when my picture and a related article appeared on the front page of her local newspaper. As can be imagined, this was an embarrassing situation for any parent to find themselves in. In her case, more so as she is a judge.
In previous letters to her, I had tried to prepare her for the fact that we (and all dedicated Christians) will receive more severe persecution as the final events of the Endtime draw closer. It seems this Scriptural certainty is particularly difficult for non-believing loved ones to understand and accept.
It was extremely heartening to see her come to our defense, even at the risk of her own reputation and career. In one of her letters to me after hearing that I was in prison for my faith, she wrote:
Oh my dear, how I wish with all my being that this terrible suffering that you and the others are undergoing will soon end.
I have done a lot of thinking and researching and I have no doubt whatsoever of your innocence and of the evil intentions of the forces against you. In my mind, I sit with you in your cell and my love and my thoughts are constantly with you. I am sure your total dedication to God will sustain you and comfort you.
I am sending a letter regarding your imprisonment--together with two very persuasive letters from academics who have done extensive field studies on The Family--to churches, civil rights associations, politicians and the media. I hope that these people will act as forces for good, for truth and for justice.
My dear girl, how I wish I could take you in my arms and comfort you and protect you from the evil in the world!
As a judge myself, I am horrified by the events as they are related in the press. The fall-out on our family in Canada has been incredible. Steven [my brother] has had to act as spokesperson. James [another brother] has tackled his member of parliament about the poor performance of Canadian External Affairs.
I cannot tell you how worried I am for your welfare, as well as all the other fine people of your group whom I met and came to know on the three occasions I visited you.
History keeps repeating itself and mankind commits the same errors over and over again. You and your group have become part of the social evolution of Argentina, just as Martin Luther King and his followers became part of the U.S. history of human rights.
Many of her fellow judges have been very supportive of her and find the proceedings in Argentina a breach of human and civil rights. Friends of my mother sent her $3,000 to help cover her expenses. Other old friends of our family whom I haven't seen in nearly 20 years wrote and offered support.
When Mom visited me in prison, she told me that she feels her whole life has been preparation for this battle. She suffered a lot of discrimination as a child growing up with a black father and a white mother. That, and her training and experience as a judge, have helped her to understand the gross miscarriage of justice that is taking place, and she's determined to fight this through to the finish.
Last Sunday a riot started in one of the cell blocks, instigated by Deborah and Cristina, the lesbian couple who, less than three weeks earlier, had been put in our cell for a day and a half. Many women were badly beaten in the brawl. During prison riots, the guards use the threat of putting the prisoners in solitary confinement to stop them from fighting. However, this time, all of the solitary confinement cells were already full when the riot started to spread to other areas of the prison. The guards had therefore lost their means of controlling the penal populace, so there was no telling what would happen next. A guard came to our door and explained the revolt was expected to reach our sector that night. If that were to happen, she said the guards would lock themselves in a safe place while the inmates ran wild. The only advice she could offer us was that if we heard the inmates loose in the courtyards below, to lock ourselves in the bathroom and try to wait it out.
All we could do was pray that the Lord would take control and that things would cool down. Having done that, we went to sleep. When we awoke the next morning, we realized our prayers had been answered! The riots had been brought under control! Jesus never fails! "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
A Narrow Escape
Yesterday I was assailed in the hall, and narrowly escaped harm. This happened when I was being taken from our cell block to meet with my mother in the visitors' area. Between our cell and the stairs, along a narrow corridor, are the prison medical offices. It was about 10 a.m., and by that time there were a handful of prisoners milling about, waiting to see various doctors. Some had their small children with them. The guard escorting me failed to clear the halls of other prisoners. Just inside the corridor, my guard left me alone for several minutes while she went down the hall to take care of business of her own.
Only two meters away were five mothers with babies. One was the burly woman who, days earlier, had threatened Kay and I as we were on our way to meet Judge Bergessio. Another ten prisoners were just down the hall. As the other mothers yelled out curses and threats, this bruiser advanced menacingly towards me. A smaller, but equally nasty-looking woman, followed close behind. I was bracing myself for what was to come, when the guard reappeared on the scene and ushered me through the hall. As I passed by, a mother with a baby her arms elbowed me in the ribs. I sidestepped and thankfully escaped the full impact.
As we passed the other ten inmates, several of them yelled out, "It's her, it's her!" More curses and threats rang out from behind as I went out the door. Perhaps it was the sight of the unusually big guard that was with me, or perhaps it was the Lord's invisible Agents who prevented them from attacking. Either way, I don't think I've ever been so thankful for the Lord's protection.
Cellmates' Hearts Touched
Yolanda, the toughest case in our room, the declared atheist, received the Lord this week with Flor! The incident with Deborah and Cristina had been the catalyst.
Was ever love so strong?
Was ever crime so wrong?
When Jesus suffered long,
For all my sin?
He saw my greatest need,
Became my friend indeed
Through Him I have been freed, From all my sin.
I don't think any of us will ever be the same after this experience of seeing how much the Lord loves these lost ones here. The four women who hated us and seemed so impossible to live with a couple of months ago have all turned out to be very special. By prison standards, they now get along unusually well, are affectionate to one another and are generally well-behaved. They have their weak moments, of course, but as with all of us, the Lord often uses those to teach these women His ways.
Heidi has been happy to spend more time with us. When we gave her and our other cellmates some of the food Family members had brought to us, she said: "I wish we could share all of the little we have. I think we'd all be happier."
The Lord also did something special to encourage Heidi's faith. While telling her more about The Family, Kay happened to mention that some of us had visited the prison at La Pampa a few months ago. Suddenly Heidi realized that we were the Christians her friend, Pamela, had written her about. Pamela, an American also serving time for drug-related crimes, is incarcerated at La Pampa. In a letter which Heidi received some months ago, Pamela enthusiastically told her of a Christian group that had visited and sung at her prison, and how she had prayed and been born again. Pamela, who is 49, had really surprised Heidi when she wrote that she reads her Bible regularly and shares her new found faith with others in the prison.
Prison Chaplain Sows Discord
The prison chaplain, who is an ex-con himself, is very much on his guard around us. He's been "briefed" with every imaginable lie about us. He also seems nervous that we're going to convert our cellmates to the "cult". The last time he talked with Mary, he had nothing good to say about us. Almost immediately, she reverted to her old ways, snapping at us, and then withdrew completely, not talking to us at all. It was sad to see her this way, and we prayed even more for her in the days that followed. The Lord answered in a way which surprised us all.
One morning I got up early with baby Marieta, and Mary was the only other person awake. She ignored me. Then suddenly, as we passed each other in a doorway, Marieta literally threw herself into Mary's arms! Caught off guard by the baby's pure, simple love, Mary allowed me to strike up a conversation. Before we finished, she had shared how confused she had been since talking to the priest. Although she doesn't trust him entirely, some of the things he said cast doubts in her mind about us and all religious groups, for that matter.
"What am I to believe? Who can I trust?" she asked. "Each interprets the Bible in their own way!"
"Just hold on to the simple truths that we have shown you in the Bible," I explained. "God is love, His love and salvation are everlasting, love your neighbor.--Base your faith on those unchanging principles and you will never be confused. These simple truths are not subject to interpretation. I can fail you, any group or person can fail you, but the Lord will never fail you. Stay close to Jesus and let Him be your best friend. Read and love His Word, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
I also assured her that we love her very much and value her friendship. "You were our first friend here. In the beginning of our ordeal, when we felt so lost and vulnerable, you defended us when everyone else in the prison was against us," I told her. "That's one of the things we most admire about you, your courage to stand up for what you believe no matter what others think. We will never forget you, or your kindness. That's why it hurts when you cut yourself off from us." Visibly moved, she took my hand, hugged me and apologized, adding, "Please don't desert me when you're out of here! Visit and write me!"
Suddenly it was painfully obvious that she had been hardening herself in anticipation of the day when she would lose us. We agreed to spend an hour every day reading the Bible together and sharing our hearts for the remainder of our time here.
"God needs you to help and comfort others here," I reminded her. "You're respected and liked. You could reach so many others, women who would never listen to us." She snatched up the challenge.
Within hours, she was witnessing her fledgling faith to others, first to another prisoner she had known before either of them were in prison. This prisoner had never forgotten Mary, for Mary once saved her baby's life.
Later that night, one of our guards came to us in tears. She had been reading some favorable newspaper and magazine articles about The Family, which our friends had smuggled in to help counter the lies that the top prison officials circulate about us. She also confided in Mary that she was feeling very depressed after breaking up with her boyfriend. Mary gave her one of our tracts entitled "Somebody Loves You!", listened, and shared her own testimony. Before long, this sweet guard left with a new-found joy.
No sooner had she gone when tough girl Yolanda bitterly taunted, "All guards are animals!"
Mary stood her ground. "All human beings need love and understanding," she told her.
While shopping in the prison's tiny commissary, we were also able to witness to the guard in charge and show her our favorable news articles. She's a very sweet woman and believes in us. "I know that you have a lot of powerful political enemies, but despite all that, the truth is finally coming out in the papers. I'm happy for you," she said.
The guards all rotate around the prison, so the Lord has given us opportunities to witness to most of them. A great many of them have received our witness and are now favorable. The baby and our children (who have recently been allowed to visit us) have won their hearts. One guard whom we've talked to a number of times is convinced we are victims of religious persecution. She so enjoys our Family music that she has borrowed our song tapes to make copies for herself. Actually, the prison personnel is divided now between those who recognize that we are victims of a hate campaign and those who don't. Considering the tremendous prejudices that weighed against us originally, this represents an enormous change in the overall attitude towards us.
Prison Is Hell on Earth
There are so many broken hearts and lives here amongst these despised, rejected outcasts of society. It breaks our hearts. Many are dying of AIDS. They have nothing to look forward to in this life, and feel no hope of forgiveness in the afterlife. This country's prison system, we've been told, has changed very little in the last 200 years. The inmates are so lost, so abused and so downtrodden. Every vestige of their human dignity is stripped from them. They're treated worse than slaves. It is no wonder that they become frustrated, violent and aggressive in the face of such relentless degradation. Day in and day out they watch those next to them being killed or, worse yet, dying of disease, uncared for and unattended. Behind their hard exteriors, many of these women are brokenhearted and despairing. It looks like a truly impossible situation, but thank God, Jesus is coming soon to change all this!
Jesus, I'm a Prisoner
The following prayer, written by an inmate at another prison, was sent to the girls in our cell block. The author of this prayer was wonderfully converted and is now actively sharing his faith by circulating this prayer to other prisoners:
I have more than enough time to pray. But only You understand how hard it is for a prisoner to pray.
One spark and my innermost being explodes in rebellion.
It's hard to pray, hard to believe when one feels abandoned by humanity.
Was it also hard for You to pray on the cross? Is that why You cried out in anguish, disappointment and pain, "Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Lord, don't let me lose my human dignity because I'm in prison. I dare not stop being a person.
I want to believe that You--the only One who was ever truly just and innocent and yet condemned--understand my tears and my anger.
You are my last thread of hope. Let this thread stretch out and reach other bound souls through my prayers for them, that they too may find hope.
Lord, give me faith and joy within my heart, and freedom of spirit that no man can take from me.
A Brush with Death
December 2, 1993
Last night I began vomiting uncontrollably. Flor, Kay, Jackie and Sophia prayed for me, and our cellmates called the nurse on duty.
The nurse didn't bother to come. A guard brought this terse message: "She'll just have to make do."
Despite the fact that this penitentiary houses over 300 women--some of whom are dying of AIDS, and over 20 babies--most of whom are also infected with the HIV virus and in need of constant medical care, there are no doctors on duty during the night.
Besides, ever since a nurse was caught selling prescription drugs to prisoners, all medicine is locked up in the prison pharmacy when the doctors go home. Hence the present policy: no emergency medication for prisoners during the night.
For many years I have first looked to the Lord to heal me, rather than automatically depend on drugs. So to be denied medicine was not the terrifying prospect to me that it is to many of the women here who have no faith to lean on. Nevertheless, I felt worse and grew weaker by the hour. Fits of vomiting followed one after another, often less than 10 minutes apart.
By midnight, after three hours of this, everyone else except Flor and Mary had gone to bed. A wave of nausea engulfed me, and I called to Flor for help as I staggered to the bathroom.
When she reached the tiny cubicle, I was half unconscious, my head propped against the toilet. "I'm going to die in prison," I remember thinking. After all we've been through here, the prospect of just slipping away didn't seem so bad at all. Then I felt strangely confused. How could I die and leave these here after we've been through so much but still haven't won the victory we know is coming?
Soon all the girls were up, yelling frantically for the nurse. Mary squeezed into the cubicle and helped Flor lift me enough to get the door open and pull me out. The last thing I heard before slipping into unconsciousness was Mary's voice. She was crying and praying for me.
Both Kay and Heidi are trained nurses, and according to them I didn't look like someone who had simply fainted. I looked dead. My skin turned gray, and my eyelids were open. My eyes had rolled back in my head so that only the whites showed. My body was so stiff that they had a struggle getting me to my bed.
When the nurse on duty finally showed up, she threw water on my face and put a large lump of salt under my tongue to raise my blood pressure, which had dropped dangerously low. Slowly, I revived.
As I came to, my first thoughts were peaceful and happy, like I'd been given a new lease on life. Best of all, it seemed, there was a feeling of assurance that the Lord still wanted to use me here.
Actually, this sudden ailment shouldn't have come as such a surprise. We've all grown physically weaker since being in prison, despite our efforts to get some daily exercise, rest when we need to, and maintain a healthy diet--or at least as best we can. We've not been allowed outside to exercise and are only allowed on the patio for a few hours a day.
This patio is our only place for fresh air and exercise. It is the same size as the room itself and has a clothesline. The hours we were permitted to use it have varied over the months. For a great deal of our time here, the patio has been open only four hours a day, despite the fact that we are overcrowded in our room. In the other cell blocks, the patios are available the entire day, and the other prisoners also have the possibility of going to a gymnasium and the prison park for exercise. On rainy days, the patio was not open at all, despite the insufficient ventilation in a room with so many people and no fans. The other girls got quite hysterical last month because the guards would close the patio several hours a day during the heat of summer, which made it stifling inside our cell.
Several weeks ago, Family members on the outside were finally given permission to bring us fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as supplementary vitamins. Unfortunately, by that time the very poor food that we had been eating for six weeks had taken its toll, especially on me. I tend to be weak anyway, and suffer from anemia--a side effect of 14 operations.
Throughout my recovery, Heidi acted as my personal nurse, and the other women in our cell were so helpful and concerned that it made me cry. It was one of those special times that brings out the sweetness in even the seemingly hardest characters. These girls care about us much more than they normally let on.
Prison Crushes the Spirit
Incidents of sudden sickness like I suffered are not uncommon in this prison, and undoubtedly reflect the neglect and abuse prevalent in the Argentine prison system as a whole. Try to imagine, if you can, the utter frustration and helplessness that these prisoners feel living a jungle-like existence amidst sickness, disease, violence and death.
All inmates enter prison here with one thing in common, regardless of the crimes they have committed or stand accused of: They have no rights whatsoever. Within weeks or months, many inmates are totally forgotten or forsaken by their relatives, which is devastating, both emotionally and materially. Cut off from the last people who could be expected to care about them, they have no means of outside financial support and, therefore, have no money to buy even their most basic needs.
It is no surprise that most inmates become more anti-social and dangerous while in prison. Thank God some of them do find the Lord and have dramatic changes in their lives.
Bad News for Mary
The next morning Mary was called to court for a preliminary hearing. She has been imprisoned for two years without a trial. She returned in the night, visibly distressed. The prosecution is charging her with international trafficking of drugs, she explained, which carries a much longer sentence. She was devastated. "God doesn't care about me," she lamented, "and I don't want to talk about Him anymore." Her ex-boyfriend, it turns out, is receiving a lighter sentence for "having cooperated with the police" during the investigation. She believes that he is shifting the blame on her to save himself.
At this point she confessed to me all her sins and failings over many years. She also explained how she had become very overbearing and proud after becoming addicted to cocaine, and found it impossible to apologize for or even recognize her failings. This problem became so extreme that she lost her husband in a fit of anger, then was too proud to apologize and ask his help in overcoming her addiction. Only since she prayed with us to receive Jesus as her Savior has she begun to reflect on her past.
Her two-year-old child died a painful death from a lung disease. Two of her sisters also died that same year, so she turned to cocaine. Her character changed, she lost her husband and drifted deeper into the world of cocaine. Before long, she was in prison.
The prisons here have no support program for drug addicts, to help them overcome their addiction. Many manage to continue buying drugs in prison. Others quit illicit drugs, but go on tranquilizers, replacing one addiction with another. Mary had continued on cocaine for much of her time in prison. Now she's hooked on tranquilizers. When Mary had first told us about herself, she said that she planned to move to another country after her release from prison, and continue the same kind of life that landed her here. Needless to say, she's had a rough life, but after getting saved, she had said she wants to start a new life and not go back to her old ways. The latest news has hit her very hard however. I pray she can stay true to her new commitment to a reformed life.
Birthday in Prison
A few nights later, we invited the girls to share a cake with us to celebrate Sophia's birthday. Afterwards, we drew names and took turns imitating each other. We all had a good laugh at ourselves. Living this close for the last two months, we have certainly come to know one another's habits and mannerisms. We have also learned to appreciate and care for one another in a special way, and this came out in our impersonations. This ended up being one of the sweetest, happiest times we've ever had with our cellmates, and a memory we all will treasure! Even a prison cell can have a warm, happy glow if the Lord's Spirit is present!
We made a card for Sophia, and asked our cellmates to sign it. Their notes were touching, especially Yolanda's. "Though I walk around with a long face, I'm still a human being," she wrote. In other words, "Look beyond my hard exterior to my suffering heart within." She has had so little genuine love in her life that she has braced herself against the world. Only God's love can heal such hurts. I pray you will help us, Lord, to continue to reach out to her with Your love!
December 9, 1993
There is now talk of a prison uprising sometime before Christmas. It sounds like several prisons in the area are planning to rebel in unison, as a protest against the poor conditions that resulted in the death of 11 inmates at the Catamarca prison, and exploitation and abuse of prisoners in general. Mary is supposed to attend a meeting with leaders from the other cell blocks. She's planning to tell them that our sector will not participate. Since prison officials have caught wind of the planned riots, they've been searching for weapons.
Although we cannot agree with or support their actions, we can sympathize with the prisoners, as many of their grievances seem genuine.
(Editor's note: These riots took place on December 16th. The following Associated Press article, dated December 17th, 1993, confirms some of the prisoners' grievances:)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Angry inmates were holding dozens of employees hostage at two prisons Friday, a news agency reported. One thousand inmates at La Plata Model Prison, 33 miles southeast of the capital, took over the prison Friday and were holding 40 prison employees, Diarios y Noticias reported. The prisoners demanded the release of inmates who have been awaiting sentencing for more than two years. They said international treaties signed by Argentina forbid such treatment of inmates. About 500 inmates took over a prison in Bahia Blanca, 450 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, on Thursday and were holding 12 guards hostage, the news agency said. The inmates said they were angry because guards treat their visitors roughly. No violence against the hostages or damage was reported at either prison.
Portents of Deliverance
A week or two ago the Lord began showing us that we will be liberated soon. Several of us have had dreams to that effect, as have some of our cellmates. At first we were hesitant to discuss these dreams among ourselves. For the past three months we've been very careful not to get our hopes up, and have tried to be trusting no matter what the Lord has planned for us.
Finally Kay exclaimed, "If the preparations of the heart of man are of the Lord (Proverbs 16:1), maybe we just need more childlike faith. The Lord is not going to give us false hopes and then let us down!" How very true! From that moment on, we have taken the position that deliverance is just around the corner!
Mary dreamed that our release papers arrived, together with several pairs of very beautiful shoes. As she told the dream, I immediately received an interpretation in the form of a Bible verse, Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings." The Lord is going to release us so we can tell the world that He does deliver His children in answer to earnest prayers!
When we were first arrested, the Family men at Caseros Prison were reminded of the Book of Esther in the Bible, and drew several parallels between that story and our own situation. We reread this story in our Bibles recently, and the Lord gave us what we feel is yet another confirmation that we will be out soon: "Now in the twelfth month . . . on the thirteenth day of the same . . . in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them that hated them . . ." (Esther 9:1). The 13th day of the 12th month. Could the Lord be indicating that deliverance will be on December 13th? Granted, that was based on the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we use today, but if the Lord is indeed applying this verse to us, we are to be released next Monday, December 13th, just four days from now! We've already heard that the appeals court is supposed to rule on our case that very day!
Our Cellmates Continue to Change
Sonia has changed remarkably over the past three months. When we first came, she didn't want to hear anything about the Lord. Her husband received Jesus in prison, became an evangelical, and had "preached" a lot in his letters to her. She didn't like the change. To her way of thinking, he had become pushy and closed-minded, especially about sex.
We talked to her about the Lord as much as she would let us, but mostly we just tried to win her through our actions. The Lord rewarded our patience and prayers when about three weeks ago she gave her heart to the Lord, as evidenced by the change in her whole attitude and spirit. She reads her Bible daily and is making an effort to have a genuine and lasting change in her life. She is now fighting her drug addiction, and wants to restore her broken marriage. It's so touching to see her so happy at last! God bless her husband, who is a sincere Christian and has also been praying for her.
Heidi, the Korean-American, has also undergone a lot of changes since we first came, though she's often too proud to let it show. Beneath her tough exterior, she has a lot of love for others, and has been visibly touched by our patience and love during this hard time. She observes our every word, action and prayer, and often intercedes for us when our other cellmates get upset with us. She also encourages us to witness to and help the other girls, but she's afraid to get too involved. She knows the price of dedication. Some years ago, she considered being a missionary herself. Maybe some day she will yet become one.
U.S. Diplomats Pay Us a Visit
Today, Thursday, December 9th, representatives from the American embassy paid Sophia, Kay and Jackie, who are Americans, a visit for the first time in five weeks. A woman who has been involved in our case from the beginning came with a young fellow that we had never seen before. The lady was quite defensive. The entire visit, she couldn't look the girls in the eye. In fact, she never took off her dark sunglasses, and literally hung her head in shame at the fact that the embassy has done less than nothing to help our American members. The girls talked about our life and faith with them, mainly for the sake of the young man who seemed open-minded and interested. The girls also told them that our protective custody is not being respected and about the threats we continue to receive. The embassy officials promised to have a word with the prison authorities.
During their visit, the embassy officials confirmed that the appeals court would issue their ruling on our case some time next week, and said that they expected us to be released at that time! This was wonderful news indeed, and strengthened our faith in the indication we'd received from the story of Esther in the Bible that we may be released on December 13th! At the same time we don't want to get our hopes up too high in case God has other plans. We're confident in His love and concern for us, and we continue to trust that we're in His care and He will deliver us in His good time.
Meeting with Marquevich
December 10, 1993
Jackie and Flor were called to court to appear before Judge Bergessio. Flor was able to arrange to leave baby Marieta with us, which spared her quite an ordeal, and made the trip easier on Flor as well.
To Jackie and Flor's astonishment, they were taken to Judge Marquevich's office instead of to Judge Bergessio's! After waiting a while downstairs, Flor was summoned up to his office first. Judge Marquevich was very defensive and tried to shift the blame for the way we've been mistreated from himself to the appeals court, then to the prosecution, then to our lawyers and finally to the police.
Recently, five separate petitions have been filed with the lower house of the Argentine parliament, all calling for Judge Marquevich's impeachment. When speaking of these proceedings to Flor, Marquevich said, "These people don't even know me."
"Now you can understand how we feel after being so viciously attacked by people who don't know us!" Flor answered. "But we believe in God and have been praying, and He is going to work things out."
The judge surprised her by exclaiming, "I believe in God too!" as he grabbed her hands. "Pray for me!" he pleaded.
At that moment, however, they were interrupted by his secretary who came into the room. Marquevich jumped back and snapped at his secretary, "Take this woman out of here, she's a hopeless case!"
He knew, of course, that Flor and Jackie were on their way to Judge Bergessio's office, where they would present official complaints against his abuse of the legal process.
Judge Bergessio met the girls separately, and spent most of the day with them. Both girls were struck by Judge Bergessio's sincerity and impartiality. They had a wonderful opportunity to explain our beliefs, missionary work and lifestyle in detail to him and his secretary. They also told him their personal life stories, particularly how they met The Family and why they joined. They dictated sworn affidavits in his presence, outlining the mistreatment they have suffered at Marquevich's hands.
When Sonia, Yolanda and I went to the commissary to buy our weekly needs, we were nearly attacked by two groups of inmates. The first incident took place on the way down. The guards hadn't cleared the halls, but simply herded about a dozen women into one corner as we passed. A burly older woman charged towards me, screaming insults and vulgarities. The other women followed suit. Sonia and Yolanda were shocked. We'd told them, of course, about previous encounters like this, but they weren't prepared for this!
Thank the Lord, the guard was tough enough to confront them. "Hit her!" she dared them. "But you'll have to contend with me first!" Threats and insults continued, but the guard restrained them until I was down the stairs and out of danger. On the way back to our cell, a similar incident took place with a smaller group of women.
This harassment is clearly the result of Judge Marquevich's false and inflammatory statements to the press, which have placed our lives in danger. As far as many of the prisoners are concerned, we were found guilty before we ever stepped inside this prison.
Day of Deliverance
Tuesday, December 14, 1993
Yesterday, Monday, December 13th, at 8:00 a.m., we heard the news that the appeals court ruling would be announced, and we all anxiously awaited the miracle that we believed God had promised to perform. Would we soon be free for the first time in over 100 days? Would we be able to hold our dear children once again?
At 8:00 p.m. we were still waiting and still hoping. Then news of the verdict came over the radio: We were all to be released! Immediately we were all flooded with crazy, mixed-up emotions. We felt like jumping and shouting for joy, but at the same time our hearts broke for the four women we had shared our cell with for these last three months. They would not be free again for God only knows how long. They've been imprisoned for years and haven't even been tried yet.
Apprehensively, we turned to see how they were reacting to our relief and joy. God bless them, they all started shouting and hooting and hollering with happiness too! There we were, nine women, united in that crowded prison cell, hugging each other, weeping together, rejoicing and praising God, forgetting for the moment all the pain and suffering of the past three months as we expressed our love, care and gratitude for one another.
These girls had changed so much since we'd first met, but how we wished that we could have helped them to grow closer to the Lord! We gave them all of our devotional books, Bibles and Scripture song tapes. Heidi suddenly opened up. She told us that her mother, who always wanted Heidi to become a missionary, had died just one week earlier. Heidi knew she had disappointed her mother terribly. She was afraid to face the Lord, and she was afraid to face us. We represented the Lord to her, she said. Now, as we were about to part, she promised to read the Bible every day and begged us to stay in touch.
Later, Mary came to Kay and I in tears. "I will never forget what you have done for me, the change that you brought in my life! I would like to write a letter to the press, telling them how different you people are from anyone else I have met during the two years I've been in prison. I know from living with you that the accusations against you are totally false. You have taught me to believe in Jesus! Now you are leaving, but I am still here, and the work that you have begun, I will carry on in your place."
At 10:00 p.m. the wardens came for us, and we bid a teary good-bye to our dear friends. The dehumanizing conditions we found them in were unchanged, but they had all found the only true liberation in this world, through faith in Jesus.
The male guards who transported us to town seemed determined to make us as miserable as possible to the very end. Despite the order for our immediate release from the judge, they put us in hand irons and chained us to the floor of the vehicle! Undaunted by such treatment, Jackie witnessed to a woman guard who rode in the back with us. When we had tried to talk to her on previous occasions, she had been hard and unreceptive. That night was different--she wanted to listen. So as we were being set free from prison that night, Jackie explained to this woman how Jesus had died to set all people free, and told her of the gift of Eternal Salvation. The woman guard decided she, too, wanted this freedom and prayed with her, accepting Jesus as her Savior!
As we arrived at a police station in town and were led out of the truck, we saw our dear Family waiting for us on the street. None of us could hold back the tears! How anxious we were to hug and kiss and greet them! But the officials were mean and petty and did all they could to be as discouraging as possible. Our hearts broke with disappointment as the officials stalled our release for as long as they could. We ended up spending the night on a wooden bench inside the station, waiting for the police to check our records, and take mug shots, fingerprint us all for what seemed the umpteenth time! Exhausted and weary physically, emotionally, and spiritually after being unjustly incarcerated for over three months, our patience was pushed to the limit.
This morning, as we finally were able to walk out of the police station as free women, we were overcome with emotion. It is impossible to adequately describe in words the feelings of happiness, relief, and thankfulness we experienced as we were reunited with our loved ones.
Yet after all we had endured, none of us had the slightest regret for refusing to compromise the faith we embrace and the truth that we were jailed for. Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Iron bars can't imprison that truth. And how do we look at the suffering, pain, and heartache we and our children endured? Through our limited human understanding it is difficult to fathom why this whole ordeal had to happen. But we can take heart in Jesus' promise: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven!" (Matthew 5:11-12.)
Editor's note: On December 13th, in a lengthy resolution--considered by experts and law professors to be a milestone in Argentine jurisprudence --the Court of Appeals of San Martin, Buenos Aires, clearly exonerated all of the accused Family members of all the charges laid against them The immediate release of all adults and children was ordered. On December 23rd, all 97 children remaining in institutions (some had already been released) where they had been held for 114 days, were reunited with their released parents in a joyous and heart-touching event which was witnessed and recorded by many in the press corps. Despite the adults' release on December 13th, the authorities had insisted on keeping the children of Family members in the institutions until other officials returned the use of all the properties rented by the Family at the time of the raids--a process which, due to slow-moving bureaucracy, dragged on for nine days!
When Claire and the other released Family members returned to their homes, they were shocked and angered at what they found: The properties, which had remained guarded and under police custody during Claire and her fellow missionaries' incarceration, had been ransacked and plundered by the police and other officials. Personal belongings, furniture, bedding, silverware, tools, televisions, appliances, children's toys--everything was gone--right down to the toilet seats! The official stamps sealing all the doors and windows had been tampered with and the dates changed on them several times.
Claire and others toiled long and hard for days to restore their pillaged houses. She later wrote: "We had no funds and no food. Bills had accumulated since we were imprisoned and we were deeply in debt. Many of us no longer even had our Bibles. But we were rich in faith, love and joy and every blessing of God's Spirit! And when our children were released, being reunited with our little ones and all our loved ones was like Heaven!"
Shortly afterwards, lawyers representing The Family lodged a petition for the children to be allowed to leave the country together with their parents. Unable to continue their ministry in the country due to threats of further persecution by certain Argentine authorities, and unwilling to subject their children to the threat of possible future separation and institutionalization, The Family members had unanimously decided to rebuild their lives and continue their work elsewhere.
The court of appeals accepted the petition with the provision that the children undergo further psychological testing before leaving. The original tests, performed on the children during their detention, had been nullified by the court of appeals. The judges had ruled that the tests were non-scientific, based on preconceived notions, and had not taken into account the psychological distress any children would naturally have suffered after being abruptly and forcibly separated from their parents and home environment and confined in institutions. The results of the new tests showed the children to be psychologically healthy and well-adjusted.
In a major twist, the court of appeals sent the final petitions to allow the children to leave the country to Judge Marquevich to sign. With the new psychological reports effectively removing much of the supposed grounds for his previous actions, Judge Marquevich agreed in April 1994, that all 97 Family children still in the country be allowed to leave, which they have now done. This concluded one of the last legal battles for The Family in Argentina.
Despite the court of appeals' clear ruling in favor of the Family, some politicians and judicial authorities, as well as some prominent representatives of the official state religion have taken sides with Judge Marquevich and the federal prosecutor, Villafuerte. The latter has lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court contesting the court of appeals' decision that Judge Marquevich be ruled incompetent to judge the case. This decision is presently pending before the Supreme Court. It is, however, unlikely that the court of appeals' ruling will be overturned.
In the meantime, the 21 adults who were released remain under the jurisdiction of the court. We ask that you join us in prayer for a speedy end to what has been a traumatic ordeal for our fellow missionaries and their children. But despite the suffering, this persecution, as evidenced by Claire Borowick's personal account, has resulted in a great witness. Many lives have been transformed and come to know God and His great love for them--lives which might never have been reached otherwise. It is truly a fulfillment of God's promise in the Scriptures that, "All things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28).