Colombia has long been known for its drug lords and corruption. The nation’s prisons were so corrupt that, even on the inside, wealthy and powerful drug lords controlled and bribed guards to secure every imaginable luxury, transforming the prison into something of a personal palace. They had anyone who wouldn’t go along killed. “Normal” prisoners were awarded with perks if they joined the drug lords. That made the prisons a major recruiting center for the drug cartels.
Penal authorities declare that it wasn’t always this way in the Colombia prison system. But the power of the cartels became so pervasive that they gained control over much of the nation creating systemic social failure. Once you have a break-down at this level, how can you reverse it? How do transform a culture? You certainly don’t start with the penal system – or do you? Is it possible to transform a whole prison, judicial system or police department simply by teaching Christian principles? Yes!, say the trainers of the La Red (‘the net’ in Spanish) Business Network who currently see major segments of Latin American countries turning around.
By simply teaching 40 Christian values (one a week) to eight-thousand guards (done in small groups where they could freely discuss issues), the organization began to change the prison system. So transformed were the guards, that prisoners began to want to be taught the same values after they saw first hand how differently the guards treated them.
The teaching created the awareness among the guards that their actions were hurting their country and their own families. They realized that they had to change their behavior. The drug lords, still present and unmoved, began to lose their hold. They could no longer intimidate the solidarity of the whole set of guards now committed to living by a new set of values.
Now, the Colombia military are introducing these values to their leaders. Other countries like Guatemala have requested it for their court system. Public defenders were demanding bribe money from families to get their relatives off. The police helplessly watched criminals walk away free. Morale fell with law enforcement feeling their work was pointless. They began to extort money before the family members even made it to the court system. If a family resisted and declared their intention to report the police, the entire family was often murdered.
In a culture where people are not taught values, to “be good,” and shown how the corrupt behavior of some impacts all, they seem to resort to the expedient and or to simply replicate the lowered standard of behavior. As someone observed, “We jump the lowest fences.” Only when they began to see the long-term harm their actions had caused, did they find a motivation for change. Many of those who go through the training want to become Christians themselves.
In an elite air force academy in Colombia where Christian values were taught, the general in charge was involved in a car accident. The man responsible for the accident had no insurance and no money to pay for damages. The man’s son was a cadet at the academy. He had just gone through the values training, including the importance of being responsible and specifically, of paying the debts you owe. The son shared his new convictions with his father. The father was so convicted that he went to the general and told him he would make payments until the debt was paid in full.
La Red is now being invited to work with Mexico’s FBI and in Peru. On the La Red website you will find two inspiring videos. One is about the prisons in Colombia, the other about the Supreme Court in Guatemala.
Adapted from a report by Dean Cooper: Joel News