…for such a time as this

Stories about the adventure that is Peace Corps Tonga


One of the cool things about being here a month before school started was the time I had to discover my small island. One of the nuns I live with, Sister Sina knew one of the prisoners that was in our prison here in Ha’apai. I was surprised to find out that there was a prison here; she invited me to come with her. I decided to bake some banana bread to bring and she had a gift for one of the prisoners. Now, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the Los Angeles County Jail. I think my office, school and house are the only 2 story buildings on the island. But I was not expecting what I saw.

Basically, the prison looks like any other group of homes on Ha’apai. No gate, no lights, no sirens, no guards, no barb wire. Instead, cable tv, a nice home (raised so the rain doesn’t come in) and several simas (for drinking). I asked what the prisoners do all day…not much. They go to the bush to work for a few hours, then come back and cook, clean and play games. The prisoner Sister Sina knew is there because of a crime he committed in the US. It was a gang incident and he was deported. In Tonga, they gave him 15 years. For good behavior, they take off 3 months of his sentence each year.

I’ve been pondering this a bit. There isn’t need here for ultra secure prisons. Everyone knows everyone. If a prisoner escaped, where would he go? The children are playing in the streets, the women are in their open homes weaving, the men are working in the bush; an escaped prisoner wouldn’t get very far on this island. And if they tried to leave by boat, the driver would know who he was and take him right back to the prison or if he tried to leave by plane, the airport attendant would know him and call the police. I wonder if the thought of escape even comes to mind for these men. Living in such a tight community does have its advantages. Something us Americans might want to think about…..

In the mean time, I think I will continue to bake bread for the prisoners.


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