SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY) - It was an inspirational day within the walls of the Pointe Blanche Prison on Friday, January 26, 2024, when the St Maarten Tzu Chi Foundation resumed its annual visits at the penal facility to donate personal hygiene and other items to inmates.
The foundation has been visiting the facility annually for many years but paused in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six volunteers and two Tzu Chi Commissioners participated in the visit, which represented Tzu Chi’s New Year’s blessings.
A total of 12 of the 92 inmates, who are incarcerated in St Maarten, attended the session – ten males and two females, supervised by three prison officers.
During the visit, Tzu Chi donated 92 packages containing personal hygiene and other items to inmates. The packages were for inmates at the Pointe Blanche Prison, Philipsburg and Simpson Bay detention facility. Each package contained a composition book, pens, colour pencils, toothpaste, toothbrush, bath soap, washing soap, shampoo, fruit juice, instant noodles, cookies and chocolate.
Prior to the distribution of the items, Tzu Chi volunteers took the opportunity to share an inspirational message to inmates, who displayed positive and harmonious attitudes throughout the interactive two-hour programme.
Volunteers shared the message through a game entitled “Happiness and Sadness” with seven volunteer inmates.
The game began with one of the inmates “Person A” having two cards in his hand: “happiness” and “sadness.” The inmate immediately passes on the sadness card to the first person, who receives the sadness and in turn passes on pain from his hand, the second person receives pain and passes on anger. The third person receives anger and passes on debasement. The fourth person got debasement and immediately passed on poverty. The fifth person receives the poverty and sent out his depression, the sixth person accepted the depression, and immediately passes on sadness back to Person A at the end of the circle.
Tzu Chi Commissioner Sandra Cheung explained that although “Person A” kept happiness, that person chose to send out sadness and as a result the ripple effect resulted in a circle of negative cards in the process. “It is the same thing as our daily lives, the moment we send out negative messages, we end up increasing unnecessary confusion and afflictions to ourselves and others,” she said.
“If we know that we made a wrong choice, we just need to admit it and accept the mistake we made. Life is just like a game or a stage- when we change our thoughts and change our characters, life will begin to transform.”
The game was reset and played again with “Person A” instead handing out the happiness card to the second person, who received calm. That person hands out calmness to the third person who receives wisdom, this person hands out wisdom and the other person receives compassion, which is passed on for understanding, then gratitude and ends with happiness being passed on at the end of the circle back to the first person.
Cheung explained that although “Person A” kept sadness this time and sent out the much more positive happiness, there were many positive cards in the process. “It is the same thing as in our daily lives. When we send out positive messages, that positivity will bring peace and happiness to ourselves and to others.”
The inmates were grateful for the positivity shared. “Thank you for coming and taking time out of your day to give us positivity and speak wisdom into our lives. We really do appreciate it. What I take is what you give is that you get,” said one inmate speaking on behalf of his fellow colleagues.
Another inmate thanked the foundation for teaching them the message of the four-spirituality soup of contentment, gratitude, understanding and accommodation.
Another inmate said he was thankful for Tzu Chi’s efforts to help persons around the world and in particular for helping inmates be positive, to make positive decisions and to look into their spiritual selves for a better life.
“Thanks for the encouragement and the positive [words] and I hope that everyone can give positivity as well,” said a female inmate.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Tzu Chi volunteers, one of whom said he was happy to have assisted. “It was a very good experience for all of us and the prison guards were excited to see Tzu Chi and they [inmates] were all very interested in what was said and probably they will change their life,” said one volunteer.
“It was a nice experience volunteering at the prison with the Tzu Chi Foundation. We went and showed some love and some support,” said another volunteer.
Tzu Chi Commissioner Cheung said the visit had been a rewarding experience for everyone involved and she is grateful for the joyful participation of the inmates and the time spent by volunteers to share joy at the facility.