Tula Prison Mexico Mission

By Jeep Collins

In the southern part of the state of Tamaulipas Mexico is the village of Tula; maybe it is more than a village, more like a small town. It is a quiet place; very clean, and the times I have visited it the weather has been cool; the air clean and fresh. A short ways from the main plaza; a beautiful spot in the heart of town, is a prison. I am not sure if it is typical of Mexican prisons. I have only visited two in Mexico and one in Guatemala and other than size they were very similar. This was the smaller of the three. My rough guess would be that there are no more than 50 inmates living there.

Going into the Tula prison was easy; I’m pretty sure I could have brought in a pistol or knife. They asked us to take everything out of our pockets, but they did not make sure that we had done so; no pat down. Maybe because we were American missionaries they didn’t check us as thoroughly as they might visiting relatives. I was not sure who was in charge; no one wore an entire uniform and the people who looked through the stuff from our pockets were reluctant to make the effort to stand up and check it. I felt that I was imposing on them, though they were friendly enough.

With empty pockets we proceeded past three or four individual cells along the hallway, two of them had women inmates standing at the bars whispering to us with open hands as we passed by. At the end of the corridor was a steel door that opened into a high walled common area with no roof. Overlooking this area was a tower manned by an armed guard with a view of the entire yard. Off of the main common area was a smaller covered area where a dozen or more inmates were at work making chairs. The wood they used was not milled, but rough hewn from small tree limbs and put together with wooden pegs. There were several stacks of sisal. Some drying, other being pulled from the already dry limbs into string to be twisted into cord for the seats. Some men were weaving the finished cord onto the chair frames. The men told us that this was a business for them. When the chairs were finished the relatives of the inmates would come and take them to the market. The income from the sale of chairs helped their families while they were incarcerated.

To the left of the covered area was a large kitchen where men, taking their turn with kitchen duty were cleaning up after the noon meal. Across the open common area was the dormitory. We didn’t go in this area but could see bunks three high through the open door. Next to the chair workshop was the classroom. Against the back wall were a few bookshelves filled with well used books. In the center of this area were twenty five or thirty school desks. The guard in charge announced that we were here to speak with them so about half of the men filed into the classroom. Some men came from the dormitory and others continued working on the chairs or cleaning the kitchen.

Nehemiah, the pastor of a little Iglesia Bautista in town who comes weekly to the prison to disciple the believers, introduced his three guests. My friend Tommy Shields and I gave short testimonies, and then our good amigo pastor Sammy Garcia gave a short sermon, and gospel presentation. Afterwards he gave an altar call and eight or ten of the men came forward to pray for salvation. We gathered around them and Sammy led them in prayer.

Afterwards we visited with the men in broken Spanish and English. Many of these men knew some English; it is hard to find a Mexican man who has not spent time working north of the Rio Grande. Before we left Tommy and I each bought a chair without negotiation for $20.00 U.S.

We left and drove to closeby Naola, a very small village and spent the night with Sammy’s family. His mother cooked a grande dinner that evening, and then breakfast the next morning and we drove back to Texas.

Five days after we crossed back into Texas several members of a Mexican drug cartel known as the Zeta’s came to Tula to free members of their group from the Tula prison. They caught the police off guard, killed one and hung him in the plaza to intimate the others. As they were attempting to break into the prison the Mexicans Marines arrived and drove them out of town.

Pastor Nehemiah, well known and respected in the small community came to the funeral of the killed policeman and spoke to the policemen and their families. The vulnerability of these policemen to the violence that is a daily threat to themselves and their families in that area softened many hearts. Twenty nine people including some of the policemen and members of their families gave their lives to Christ that day.