Halfway House is a former prisoner reintegration program. Edward Onani, the project manager, talks to us about the goals of the program through the paintings in the Reconciliation Chapel of Halfway House. A recovery that is also a path of faith.
The program was begun in 2005, on the initiative of the Montfort Missionaries in Balaka, a town in the southern part of the country. Today the program is run entirely by lay people. More than three hundred ex-inmates have attended this program, and ninety-seven percent of them have returned to their communities of origin. A dozen former prisoners are currently attending the program which consists of days full of activities that start at 5 am. Former inmates, who participate in the project, work, study, attend group meetings and receive personal support and guidance.
They go through a transformation process. We believe that these former prisoners, first of all, should feel like they are at home, in a family atmosphere. No one is here to judge them. It is important to us, the program promoters, that these people trust us. There are thirteen overcrowded prisons in Malawi. Many detainees were falsely charged and had little chance to get justice.
They spent several years in prison where they experienced violence, humiliation, hunger and disease. Therefore, recovery is always a slow process. The Halfway House program, to us the promoters, is the challenge of forming new people. Meetings with former inmates’ family members are also very important in order to make them realise that family support is essential for the social reintegration of offenders. Families often refuse to remain in touch with their relatives who were jailed; instead it is important for the recovery of a former inmate that he feels he is accepted again by his family. Many inmates were jailed when they were young and released after many years. They harbour a deep sense of fear, sadness and much anger.
The experience of recent years has taught us that these people can recover. Seeing them learning to walk on their own legs again and returning to their communities is really fulfilling to the program promoters. There is not a specific moment for the recovery, which sometimes can take several years.
With chains on their wrists
In this first image, a man and a woman with chains on their wrists get out of jail. All around there are people who reject them. Their reintegration will not be easy. Despite the crimes they have committed, breaking chains will depend completely on them.
Jesus crucified. The former inmate can learn from the teaching of Jesus, he must accept that the freedom he has been given again, will have to be put at the service of the community which he hurt.
He must understand that despite his crimes, the community is giving him another chance.
The ex-prisoner will be called to help those most in need in the community and work for the social growth.
In the perspective of compensation
In this image Jesus meets Zacchaeus, who had climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus among the crowd. In the Gospel according to Luke, Zacchaeus promised Jesus to pay back four times more than what he stole. We must consider punishment in view of compensation, this means that a man is supposed to give back what he stole according to justice principles. The goal of our reintegration program is to make former inmates understand they must make up for the wrong they did. Only by doing so, will they find true peace.
The commitment in the community
The picture shows a person who has been released. Jesus’ death brings us new life. Our sins have been forgiven.
We invite those who concluded the Halfway House program attendance to start a path of faith, taking as an example Jesus’ encounter with the leper and the paralytic.
The former inmates’ encounter with Jesus and their commitment in a Christian community will help them to gain self confidence, and trust by people.
Listening and understanding
In this picture a woman, who had been caught in adultery, is shown and who was brought to Jesus who said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. And then Jesus said to the woman, “I do not condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more”. That’s our attitude in our program, we do not condemn anyone, whatever his crime was. We, through listening and understanding, help former inmates to reintegrate into their communities and urge them not to sin anymore. At the same time, we are conscious of the prejudices against former prisoners, which is why our work also consists of making local communities aware of the importance of welcoming and guiding these people.
Their human and spiritual redemption
In this last image we present the Halfway House program: an educational process through drawing classes, notions of agriculture and livestock but also a psychological and spiritual guidance, a life of prayer, the study of the Bible and reintegration into communities. It is important for ex-inmates, to find their own way and their own personal and spiritual redemption. (D.G.)