Saturday, December 02, 2006

Meet Tinkhani

I'd like you to meet someone. This is Tinkhani. He lives in Zambia. Tinkhani is a Christian man, serving a death sentence in a Zambian prison. He is one of many thousands of men incarcerated there. Tinkhani has been in prison many years, awaiting either freedom or death, for the crime of robbery. He is not a murderer. He was a very poor man with a wife and children to feed. In order to obtain money for food he agreed to take part in a bank robbery. He was caught, and sentenced to death for his crime. His family have since forgotten him and have never visited him. He is a very poor man indeed.
The conditions in Zambian prisons are horrendous. Click here for some examples.

There are people all over the world suffering. Orphans, hungry families, homeless people, and prisoners. So why should anyone care about a prisoner if there are so many other needy people, who may be far more deserving? That's a good point. The sad fact is that most people are moved when they see a documentary about starving orphans in Liberia, they are moved to tears when they see homeless families in India spending countless cold nights freezing inside make-shift tents. People don't like to see suffering, but for the majority of them, they are moved, and then they make a cup of tea, finish their dinner and forget all about it.

All this suffering sometimes makes me feel so helpless. What is the point of trying to do anything when there are countless more people living in poverty? I have heard it said that we "rich people" are in the minority. For us, this life (having a home, working hard, eating hot meals every day) seems normal, but to the majority of people our lives is a paradise that they can only dream of.

So what can I do to help? Well, those who know me well know that if I wasn't a devoted wife and mother I would sell everything and move to Liberia or Zimbabwe to open an orphanage, or something similar. Obviously I can't do that at the moment. But one thing that I have been doing, for 2 years now, is writing to prisoners. Not randomly writing willy nilly to prisoners, but writing to 4 prisoners. Tinkhani is one of these prisoners. The other 3 live in America (one of those is on death row).

My heart goes out to Tinkhani and others like him. A letter from me is all he has to look forward to. My letters take about 3 weeks to arrive with him. When he reads them he is taken out of his prison, in his mind, to another world. He has never asked me for anything other than friendship and correspondence. He has not asked for money, and I told him in my first letter that I was offering friendship and nothing more. But friendship is the most precious thing in the world to him. Tinkhani is starving. The prison service give him 1 small bowl of rice a day. They expect family to provide food for their incarcerated relatives. But for so many of the men, like Tinkhani, their family have forgotten them. For many years he has lived on this one bowl of rice per day. Some days there isn't any rice and they have to go without. Tinkhani also has AIDS. He didn't know he had AIDS when he went to prison. He almost died from the disease (some part of me wonders if he would have been better off). He gets his medication provided free of charge. The medication often makes him vomit what little food he gets.

I have spoken via email to the prison chaplain, who is a man from Northern Ireland, believe it or not. He knows Tinkhani. He says he does not look at all well, is very undernourished, but praises God every day for his life. (The photo above was taken before he went to prison).

Tinkhani lives in a concrete cell with at least 6 other men. They have no bed, no sink, no toilet, no window. At night when they are locked up he says that the men often hallucinate and believe that they have become small bugs that are able to crawl through the air vent and out to freedom. They have a chamber pot to share. In order to reply to my letter Tinkhani cleans out chamber pots every day for the richer prisoners, and washes their clothes for them. If he does this for two weeks he receives a stamp from them, with which he can write to me.

Tinkhani has asked me in his letters to ask everyone I know to pray for him. He believes that prayer is like dynamite. If you could also remember Tinkhani in your prayers he would be very grateful. He is dreaming of freedom in his latest letter. He will either be freed or hanged.

This Christmas I want to send a care package to Tinkhani. I can easily save the cost of posting these items by eating less take out food, or spending a little less on myself. I haven't decided yet whether to send one large package or whether to send little bits and pieces in each letter. Pretty much anything would make him happy. The prison mail is not checked by the guards and his parcels should remain untampered. I guess non perishable foods, sanitary items, blankets, clothes etc are all things that Tinkhani could use. If anyone has any good ideas of things to send please let me know.

If anyone else would like to write to Tinkhani, offering prayers and/or friendship then please email me and I will give you his address. If anyone would like to send something to him, in the form of a care package or a small treat then please let me know and again I'll give you his address. Anything, no matter how small would help to ease his suffering. Anyone of my family members who is about to buy me a birthday or christmas present, feel free if you like to send something to Tinkhani in leau of my present ;)

Likewise, when writing your christmas cards this year, if you feel you would like to send a card to either Tinkhani, or E (on death row in US) then please let me know and I'll give you their addresses. If you prefer you can put my address as the return address to remain anonymous.

  • remember those in prison (Hebrews 13:3).
  • Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone (John 8 v.7)
  • For ALL have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3 :23)
  • The Lord looked down from His sanctuary on high, from Heaven He viewed the earth to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death." (Psalms 102:18-20)
  • And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13 v2)
  • And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Cor 13v 13)


Mum said...

I have also written to one of Tinkhani's companions in prison and am waiting for a response. I feel like giving up my job and everything I own and just going somewhere where people need help and are not full of themselves and their own wants and lusts. This society is making me sick. Our narcissism is immoral and peverse. We are losing touch with reality in our comfort zones. Count me in, whatever I can do!!!

Davy said...

Hazel as you know I'm not a Christian. As I grew up I became increasingly disillusioned with organised religion and it's twin tenets of control and hypocrisy.
Very little of it had anything to do with what I consider to be Christ's central message -- compassion.
Christ regarded women, beggars, the handicapped, criminals and even (most shockingly) tax collectors as equals. Organised religion today appears obsessed with squabbling over minor points of doctrine, predicting the 'end times' and getting steamed up about irrelevances such as evolutionary theory and civil partnerships. The theory that US presidents must run for office on the issues of 'God, gays and guns' pretty much says it all.

By taking your stance on Tinkhani and others, you are demonstrating that you are a truly compassionate person and a true Christian. I can't honestly say that I've met many of those.

I'm sending a small donation to your Paypal account for your parcel to Tinkhani, which I hope will help in some small way to ease this man's suffering.

G.G.Dad Peter said...

I agree with everything said, and would like to help in any way I can, let me know the best way.

The suffering of people world wide is horrendous, and it's mostly caused by mans greed, our little help that we give is like pouring a cup of water into the sea, but we must do it, we're duty bound if we are truly Christian. The story of Tinkhani and others is realy heart breaking, I read it through misty eyes. I'll certainly send you some cash towards a parcel of some kind, and pray for him.

Hazel said...

Wow, I've been really touched by the responses so far. Davy had me in tears and was generous enough to paypal some money for Tinkhani. Also your comment Grandad is really kind and I'm sure Tinkhani would really appreciate your help. I will email you about this. Thanks too, to Mum for offering to pay the postage on a parcel, and also for taking time to write to someone else in the same situation. I'm really very touched by these responses. Thank you all so much.
Don't forget that both Tinkhani and Emanuel would appreciate a simple christmas card at this time of year when they feel most forgotten by their families and friends.

Tammy said...

You are such a wonderful person Hazel! I would love to send him a xmas card. I am wondering though, if you do send him a small, or large, care package, will things be taken away from him, by the other prisoners, like the richer ones? Not that I don't want him to have anything, but just thinking of that, and wondering what can be done, before you send it all to him. It is really sad, that he can do something, even though wrong, but very trivial, compared to other crimes, and get that much of a punishment, but here in the USA, there are murders that get much less. I would like to do what I can to help. I'll soon be getting a PO Box, and will start writing to a few prisoners myself. Go ahead and send me Tinkhani's address and if I could use your address as a return address for now, that would be great. Thanks!

dawniy said...

wow Hazel Stef and me are speechless about your post. Not sure what we can do to help, words just aren't enough, life for Tinkhani is totally alien to us , I can't imagine anyone being as evil as his prisoners are! could you email us to let us know what we can send to help.
dawniy xx