Prison Fire Takes Emotional Toll on Inmates

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The International Court on Human Relations is investigating overcrowded prisons in Honduras after a tragic fire claimed the lives of 361 inmates last February. 

The traumatized survivors have received donated food and clothing from the Christian community.

To help with their recovery, the governor invited a Christian family counselor to visit the hundreds of inmates still living in the damaged prison.

Comayagua Prison

Pastor Ernesto Pinto has dealt with thousands of personal and family problems through his travels and radio and television broadcasts.

But on his visit to the Comayagua prison, he encountered hundreds of traumatized inmates.

"We saw the trauma, the pain they had experienced," Pinto said. "Many were feeling guilty because they hadn't been able to help their companions."

The cell block where the fire started held 105 prisoners. Only four survived.

The state governor, Paola Castro, brought Pinto to the jail to counsel and encourage the surviving prisoners.

"Many of them are experiencing severe trauma," Pinto explained. "Many of them can't pay for an operation. They're feeling abandoned there in that place." 

The Comayagua prison was built for 500 prisoners but held 852 the night of the fire, increasing the death toll.

Ron Nikkel, president of Prison Fellowship International, remembers it as one of the most overcrowded prisons he ever visited.

"We're familiar with the problem here in the U.S. as well, and we're trying to do something about that here," Nikkel told CBN News. "Our principal reason for being involved is that overcrowding."

"The conditions that surround overcrowding is really an affront to the dignity of human beings," he said. "In most countries we wouldn't tolerate animals being as overcrowded as some of the prisons are."

Nikkel's ministry promotes better prison conditions around the world, besides working with prisoners on a personal level.

'Hero' of the Prison

In Comayagua, over a hundred Christian prisoners met regularly for Bible studies. The fire destroyed their chapel and killed two of their pastors.

As Pinto and the governor left the prison, they encountered inmate Marco Antonio, one of the recent converts. 
 
"We had the opportunity to meet this man they call the "Hero" (Marco Antonio) of the prison.  He was the one who opened the cells so many of them could be saved.  

Antonio opened nine prison barracks the night of the fire.  His actions saved some 250 lives.  He now hopes for a presidential pardon.

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Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.