Helping prison inmates is a dream come true Comfort Enogela

Do you remember the men accused of killing late National Democratic Coali­tion (NADECO) chieftain, Chief Al­fred Rewane, who regained their freedom after 15 years in detention? Lucky Igbino­via and Effiong Elemi Edu were freed years back and one of those who worked tirelessly at the background for their justice was Mrs. Comfort Enogela. The name Comfort Eno­gela might not ring a bell but amongst the inmates in some prisons across the country, her name is like an answered prayer. The ami­able woman uses her NGO, Divine Hands for Prisoners Foundation, to help prisoners who have given up hope in life realize that no mat­ter what, if there is life, there is hope. In this interview with Sunday Sun, she shared with us her motivation and other issues.


Tell us about your NGO?

The name of the NGO is Divine Hands For Prisoners Foundation and this is be­cause I see the hands of God touching the inmates through the ministry. Our actions and the way we treat the inmates is like God using His hands to push us in doing His work, to touch the hearts and lives of the inmates and that’s why we came up with the name. By God’s grace, we are trying our best.

I remember in 2007 when I got into this ministry, as at that time, our church was seeking persons who were willing to join the prison ministry. So, it occurred to me that I have been having this dream of visiting prison inmates. Before then, I preached on the streets and sometimes pray at hospitals. It was only a dream that I was nurturing and hoping one day, I would visit inmates, though I never really liked passing by Kirikiri Maxi­mum Prisons, because I saw it as a very tight place, in terms of security and I learnt they execute prisoners. So, it’s a place that I was scared of, until I started going there myself. On that fateful day, I felt it was an opportunity to actualize what I used to dream about, so I followed our parish which is Prayer House Province 3, Redeemed Christian Church of God, but I worship at Province 3, Victory House Parish. When I went, I couldn’t be­lieve what I saw. I saw people like you and me, even some of them looking better than some people outside and I didn’t know they were inmates. They danced and clapped until they told me they were inmates. I began to wail and wondered whether there are people like these! The way they worshipped God touched me and I began to think and say God, those of us who are free, we don’t even praise you the way they do.

Some of them I got to know were on death row, but they danced and praised God de­spite their situation. I was touched and also saw beyond the ordinary because I realized that I was seeing, things lots of people around me couldn’t see. During our visits, I saw in­mates without slippers and enough food, so the burden became so intense and I needed people to help me in assisting the inmates. On my own side, my husband was assisting me financially because I was not working then, so anything that was for the household, I gave some to them. But the burden was still heavy. Then, I was doing my MBA at La­gos State University, but I took the case to some of our executives in MBA school and I happen to be one of the executives too as a chairperson for socials. I called some of them and discussed the matter as I needed some assistance for the inmates as they needed help. I have visited Badagry Prisons also and I saw that the inmates there too needed help. There, they wore uniforms but at the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons, only a few do. Anytime I went there, I always felt sorry for the inmates. That’s why I said I look beyond the ordinary.

Why did you decide to focus on the prison instead of the popular causes?

Before I joined the prison ministry, I was already helping some women. They came to my house, I shared things with them. So, giving was like a calling. I was already doing that but this one became special because of the special group of people I was meeting. You know as a Christian, giving is what they preach and God actually groomed me even when I was in the university. I always shared my substance with people. When I got mar­ried and came to live with my husband in Lagos, people came to me and I was always sharing whatever I had. So, it’s a lifestyle. At present, I am thinking of doing something for women, running an NGO to help women and youth, especially the unemployed ones that cannot help themselves.

What are your challenges?

My initial challenge was that I didn’t have what it required to help prisoners the way my burden required. My bur­den was so large and so heavy . I be­gan to seek support which I couldn’t get except from my immediate family and that was from house upkeep allowance . I used to cook for them and bought a few things to encourage them because I saw their pains. The burden was too heavy and the vision was larger than me. I ran away. For sometime, I did not go again and some of my col­leagues as at that time didn’t have enough funds to support me and no financial help was forthcoming. But God in the night direct­ed my spirit to Kirikiri Maximum Prisons and at a point I saw myself hanging there. Another time, He took me right inside a church where I was watching them. So, it’s like there was no peace. God with-held my peace concern­ing the inmates and I realized that this was a calling. At first, I thought this was something I wanted to do by myself. But later, it dawned on me that it was God’s calling. He told me “ I wanted you to help them, because they wor­ship me day and night.” The preoccupation of Christian inmates is going to church while Moslems among them went to the mosque. So, God said I should take care of them and somehow friends became supportive as well as my husband. When I was in the bible col­lege, I raised the issue and my brethren said they would like to make an impact too and some of them began to follow me even to the court. Those who supported me monetarily began to do their best and that was how the whole thing started.

What was your husband’s ini­tial reaction when you told him you were going into prison min­istry?

He did not disagree with me because he knew me as an evangelist. Before I said yes to him when he came to ask for my hand in mar­riage, I told him that I was called, so I knew that has guided most of his reactions and ac­tions. My husband saw it as a calling. But in many ways he has been the one supporting. He helps and understands me.

I’m reliably told many people run NGOs because they have ac­cess to funding from overseas. Do you have access to any?

No. Not yet, we don’t have.

So, how have you been able to fund the NGO?

I’ve been able to cope because of support from friends and basically my husband and that’s why we can’t do much b e ­cause of the enormous work it entails.

Aside from your NGO, what other things do you do?

At present, I run an eatery in Benue State. Though I live in Lagos, I go there from time to time as I’ve engaged people to run it, but in Lagos here, I sell clothing and shoes.

So, how do you cope with being a mother, wife and a business woman?

Well, it’s just the grace of God. There is nothing God cannot do because when I start­ed doing this work, I did not have any busi­ness, the boutique business I had before was not thriving. I was looking for employment as at that time and God called me when I had nothing and He provided the resources. To­day, it’s a different story and I have something doing and I also go to prisons. As for caring for my children, God has been helping me and I try to devote time to my children and hus­band so as not to create lapses.

What’s your advice to women who aspire to be like you?

They should be sure that it’s God’s calling because some people go into NGO because they feel there is money in it. If you are go­ing for that sole purpose, you will miss it. You must have the passion to help. The bedrock of any NGO is helping. So, going into what I am doing requires one to be at peace with his or her God. Know where you are coming from and don’t just go into it because some­body is there. Know your area because I love what I am doing and whether I have helpers or not, the passion is there. I am passionate about what I am doing for those who are in prison because God himself put the love of them in my heart. Besides, when you tell someone you want to go and see inmates, most people don’t like it. They ask why because they feel like they are criminals. It’s true that you can be dejected sometimes when some of these inmates take undue advantage of you. I had an experi­ence with 419ers, but then I was not work­ing, my husband was the one funding it and the man ran away with my computers and assessories.I only wanted to help him out but the man just disap­peared into thin air all be­cause I trust­ed him. But such things don’t discour­age me because I am doing what God called me to do .

Another thing is that people don’t know that even in the prison, there are some in­nocent people . That’s why I feel when we go there, we relate with them, show love to them. It cools them down, it’s like it addresses the injustice done to them positively. Because there are some people that are annoyed with God over a crime they did not commit and they are there, the same God sends this per­son who never knew them. God knows about their cases and did not abandon them. Even those who are actually convicts have ac­knowledged that they have seen the light. We don’t treat them as if they are second class cit­izens, we go there, we hug them, greet them very well and make them feel like one of us. They are human beings like us. If you look at the registry of NGOs in Nigeria, we don’t have many prison NGOs, it’s not popular. God said I should go into it and that’s why I’m doing it and many of them are coming out. They are pastors today, I know them, they are doing good work, they have reconciled with their families and living a good life. Some are even outside the country helping people. Not all of them are criminals.

Are you fulfilled?

Yes, I am. One thing I realized is that any­time I stay away from them for some time, I feel I have lost fulfillment and I feel so empty. There were times I close my eyes and I saw one inmate telling me that I am not coming again and this has gone beyond even the in­mate. The uniformed people there will be annoyed and say “madam you know longer come again” and some of them that have my number also call. They don’t demand any­thing from me but our presence makes them happy and this made me feel that God really sent me. To visit prison is not easy but when we go, they receive us warmly.

What’s the greatest lesson life has taught you?

Life has taught me to totally depend on God. Even though some situ­ations may seem too heavy to surmount, as far as one is calm, believing that God knows about it, things will work out for good. In fact, I have come to realize that God knows about this situation, it’s settled even though I can see the problems. Life has also taught me to love people as that’s the es­sence of liv­ing.

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