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Rome Reports

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"If there is a hell on earth, it is Pademba Prison"

"They sleep in the street. They work in the street. Their home is the street."

In Sierra Leone, more than two thousand inmates live in inhumane conditions in Pademba prison for crimes that, in many instances, they didn't commit. 

Salesian missionary Jorge Crisafulli tells their story in the documentary 'Freedom.' Alongside several volunteers, he enters the prison looking to help young people at risk find a way out.

"There are many violent gangs on the streets. When someone dies, or is killed, the police come and grab four or five people, however many they can, and immediately change their age. Instead of writing sixteen or seventeen, they always put down eighteen and above. But you can see in their faces that they are minors."

They face lengthy prison sentences. Many of the inmates only weigh around seventy pounds. They have no water, no food, no medicine, and many are sexually abused, as was Chennor, one of Pademba's former inmates.

Salesian missionary in Pademba
"There was a moment when he saw other children dying in their cells. He heard that in other barracks adults were dying, children were dying. He lost track of time, of how long he had been in prison and how long he had left before getting out, and came to believe that he was going to die in prison, that his destiny was to die in prison."

Chennor lived in Pademba Prison for eight years, and is one of the documentary's main figures. 

He's rebuilt his life and now helps other prisoners. Chennor tells of his experience in Pademba and shares what is happening there. He says he even returned to the cell of the prisoner who abused him to forgive him. 

"Don Bosco has changed my life.... For me, in the future, I want to do the same. I want to follow in Don Bosco's footsteps."

Salesian missionary in Pademba
"He found his abuser, and asked him to look him in the eyes. He goes into this situation with authority. He is the strong one, and the inmate who abused him is in a state of weakness, to the point that he didn't want to look him in the eyes, he didn't even want to talk to him. And he says, 'No, look me in the eye. I want to tell you something. I forgive you, but I give you a very strong warning: don't ever touch a child inside this prison again.'"

For many young people in Pademba, Salesian missionaries offer the only escape. They look after their health and nutrition, and give them legal and spiritual support. 

Salesian missionary in Pademba
"Kindness is an important step towards inner healing. Knowing their names and calling them by their names. Looking them in the eyes and ask them how they are."

"Don Bosco was a genius..."

Jorge Crisafulli and volunteers enter Pademba prison to change the fate of the youth living there. Now they are showing the documentary to raise funds to support their mission and save lives.