BY R.T. Watson, David Biller, and Samy Adghirni
Imprisoned for credit-card fraud in 2010, Joao Luiz Francisco da Silva faced a choice between the filthy, treacherous cells ruled by drug cartels and the tidy ones run by evangelicals. Like a growing number of Brazilian convicts, Da Silva joined ranks with Christian inmates.
“It was necessary to survive psychologically,” said Da Silva, noting that pastors used a kiddie pool for jailhouse baptisms. He now works for an organization of former prisoners seeking to influence debate on Brazil’s penitentiary system.
There’s nothing nefarious about a church seeking lost souls. But the rapid pace of jailhouse conversions and the way many converts can combine church activism with crime when they get out says a great deal about Brazil as it faces national elections starting this Sunday. Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army man and legislator of Trumpian tendencies who’s backed by a major association of evangelical pastors and other church leaders, is leading in the polls before the most polarized election since democracy was restored three decades ago.