There are no limits to the saving grace of Christ. Those who have strayed from the faith are never too far gone to be restored- and the changed lives inside Argentine prisons are proof of that.
Convicted felons converting to Christianity behind prison bars has reportedly become a typical occurrence in Argentina's Santa Fe province and capital city of Rosario.
According to CBN News, many of these individuals started selling drugs as adolescents and were trapped in a cycle of violence that sent some to their deaths and others to jails.
Fortunately, Argentine prison officials have fostered, to varying degrees, the establishment of units functionally administered by evangelical offenders throughout the last two decades, sometimes providing them a few extra special privileges like more time outside.
According to Walter Gálvez, Santa Fe's undersecretary of prison affairs and a Pentecostal, around 40% of the province's approximately 6,900 offenders are housed in evangelical cellblocks
The said cellblocks are reportedly painted in pastel hues, such as light blue or green, much like the rest of the jail. They feature kitchens, TVs, and audio equipment, all of which are used also for prayer services.
Inmates who break the restrictions on fighting, smoking, drinking, or using drugs or alcohol may be sent back to solitary confinement.
"We bring peace to the prisons. There was never a riot inside the evangelical cellblocks. And that is better for the authorities," said Rev. David Sensini of the Rosario's Redil de Cristo (Christ's Sheepfold) church.
Prison authorities and cellblock leaders, who take on the role of pastors and are on the lookout for gang infiltration, are in charge of restricting access. This is necessary as convicts have reportedly requested to go to the evangelical pavilion in an attempt to seize control of it.
"We need to keep permanent control over who enters," said Eric Gallardo, one of the Pinero prison's officers.
Prison revival in the deep South
According to Leonardo Andre, the jail chief at Coronda, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Rosario's capital, "there are still Catholic chapels inside prisons but their priests are almost without any work to do.
The Pastoral of Drug Dependence administered by Catholic priest Fabian Belay claims that priests are certainly involved, but that they use "different methods" than the cellblock concept.
"We disagree with the invention of religious cellblocks because they create ghettos inside prisons," he said of the concept. Instead of segregation based on religions, he said they opted for "integration."
As Deacon Raul Valenti, a veteran of 30 years serving as a pastoral deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, put it: "The evangelicals do their work in the religious cellblocks, while we do them in the other ones, the ones that are called hell."
Nevertheless, he asserted that despite differing views, they would often participate in religious services together with the inmates.
According to Verónica Giménez, a researcher at Argentina's National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, evangelicalism extended to Argentina's "most vulnerable sectors, including inmates" as it did in other Latin American nations.
In Brazil, the massive Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has 14,000 individuals working with convicts, she said, adding that this likewise taking place in other Latin American countries.
CBN News remarked that this sort of kingdom expansion is noteworthy in a nation where Catholics had a near-monopoly on prison chapels until a few decades ago. This, however, is not just isolated to Latin American countries.