VISITING PEOPLE IN JAILAfricaPrison
One of the most moving things that can happen when a voluntary worker goes to visit a jail is the inmates’ persistent request of an interview. Some of the detainees are never visited and don’t have any chance of meeting someone foreign to the institution. They have sometimes lost their links with the family or they are held in custody in a far away place. So, our visits are of great importance especially for those who have no relations.
In prison we have had in-depth knowledge of the detainees’ intolerable suffering and their families’ affliction. The constriction of the prison, the separation from the dear ones, and the forced inactivity cause serious discomfort. Every convict lives for the time when his sentence will end. Many people experience a condition of social exclusion and, above all, they often lack any real perspective of rehabilitation or reintegration. Young, grown up or older people find themselves with the brand of criminal which is difficult to get rid of. Over the time prison engraves a permanent mark, just like the tattoos the convicts get, out of boredom or custom.
Such a discomfort involves those who work inside the prison walls, too. It’s a discomfort spread in many total institutions that undermines human relations, ruins interpersonal skills, and bears social alienation effects. The presence of persons foreign to the institution can positively influence the prison narrow environment, helping establish a more serene atmosphere.
This is a very important issue in the life of a convicted. It always constitutes a sort of freedom of thought, a free expression of feelings, which helps to make the prison a place where one can remain human. That is still a widespread form of communication, at least among the educated detainees. Writing a letter or keeping a diary is like a piece of freedom they manage to get hold of. So, even possessing a simple pen or some paper is essential. Some prisoners, whom we meet every week, write to us the day after our visits. Besides, receiving mail means to be remembered by someone, to be of importance for someone. A letter is a link with the world outside.
Over the years, several members of the Community entered into correspondence with prisoners from all over the world. Such correspondences, often born from a request of legal assistance, in many cases have got very intense.
A number of the elderly people of the Community exchange letters with prisoners. So, peculiar friendships began between young detainees and aged (sometimes much older) people. That is an experience which unlocks a way to meeting among different characters and distant generations. The vicissitudes told by the older people (poverty, war, old age troubles) make the young ones discover unknown situations and feelings. On the other hand, a friendship with prisoners is an opportunity for the older ones to find new affective resources and to express feelings of motherly understanding towards those younger people who have had difficult lives and are often alone.