The prison system is overcrowded, there are poor facilities, among other unmet basic needs of the inmates. In serving their sentences, they must face the colossal challenge of integrating themselves productively into society and avoiding relapsing into crime, that is, avoiding becoming a repeat offender. According to data from the SPB in 2018, 42.7% were repeat offenders, that is, they entered the penal system at least twice.
Social and self-perception labels
“Prisoners are dehumanized when they are labeled of thieves or murderers. The most serious problem is when they put them on and create them themselves. I once asked a convict what he was going to do when he got out and he said he would be a blacktop pirate again; I looked at him and said "you are not asphalt pirates, you were asphalt pirates." If they think they are asphalt pirates, they will continue to be. That is the hard work: to remove the criminal label. What they did does not condemn them. There is a wonderful phrase that is painted in the Olmos penitentiary unit 1, which says no one has to have their past as their destiny ”, assured Bernardo Bárcena who founded together with his partner, Alfredo Lambardi the consulting firm Experience Leaders . Since 2014, 15 different prisons in Buenos Aires, Chubut, Tucumán and Mexico have visited more than 70 times, giving courses to prisoners on leadership, creativity and communication.
The self-perception that we have of ourselves determines our actions and therefore towards where we are going and, most importantly, where we can go in the near future. When the person is pigeonholed under the label of criminal, his journey becomes a dead end. The greatest limitation can be oneself.
The end of article 18 of the National Constitution establishes : "The prisons of the Nation will be healthy and clean, for security and not for punishment of the inmates detained in them." The inmate's job and social reintegration should be the ultimate goal of the prison. But this is not always the case and that depends a lot on each person and the responsibility they assume for their actions.
“There is always the one who has excuses, the one who says I went out to steal to feed my children. I went out to steal out of hunger and I didn't want to kill him. No one is ever to blame. But when they are locked in the shade, without family or friends, and someone talks to you about the commandments, that is, do not steal, do not kill, do not lie, it makes you reflect. There you discover that you did something wrong. Deepening in God's love invites us to ask ourselves what I should do to be well with Him. When they reflect on the crime committed and seek God's forgiveness with a sincere heart, they find peace and the desire to change. That is the tip of the ball of a profound change ”, affirmed Father Guillermo Conti priest and current military chaplain, who worked for a year and a half in San Rafael with the inmates of the prison that belongs to the Service Mendoza Penitentiary.
A job opening while the sentence is served
Almost all inmates dream of freedom and tell what they will do when they leave. Their deepest hopes and desires are projected there, generally related to family, friends, and plans that were left truncated. The problem is that many times it takes years for this freedom to materialize, and maintaining a passive attitude is neither the only nor the best option. Prisons offer education, workshops and trades where they can find a job opportunity.
“It is difficult to return to work if you did not take advantage of your time in prison to train yourself. Many sign up for elementary or high school so they can get out of the pavilion for a bit, and then they get excited about studying. Another alternative is the workshops where trades are taught, which I consider a great opportunity. Likewise, outside they will have to write very good lyrics because the first missing in a workshop or factory, the fault will always be the ex-convict even if it is not. That is something that persecutes them for life, "said Conti.
For his part, Bárcena doubles the bet, proposing that they themselves generate employment sources:" There are very few companies that allow the inmates to reintegrate into work. It's a tough stigma. We encourage them to be entrepreneurs and that they can be the ones who hire people, instead of going to ask for a job. In other words, not depending on the hiring of a third party, because if nobody gives them work, they are likely to commit another crime. ”
That old phrase from Karl Marx “ work dignifies man ”is true, but what remains to be clarified is what we understand by work. “For inmates to commit crimes is a job. If you ask them what they work for, they answer that they go out to fight but that they had to lose (go to prison); as if a worker had suffered an occupational accident in a factory, "said Father.
Faith and courage: important values to carry the confinement
" Faith is important, because the confinement and sometimes the guilt weigh a lot. It is one thing that you are imprisoned for a thief, another for a swindler and quite another for a murderer. I once asked a prisoner if he could sleep at night, and he said no. I asked why and he told me that he dreamed of the people he had killed. Every night their faces and expressions of terror haunted him. Faith within the prison is essential for the inmate's rehabilitation ”, assured Father Guillermo Conti, agreeing with Bernardo Bárcena that if they do not assume responsibility for the crime, there is no possibility of a lasting change over time. Although the ways to discover it are different, the essence is the same.
For an inmate it is difficult to understand that realities can be changed. Generally they come from a very hard life, and when they regain their freedom they are reunited with a past that invites them to commit crimes very easily, and an honest job that eludes them. Likewise, there are their own fears after such a long time of confinement. “Perhaps they are very aggressive for fear of the unknown. For example, some say they are afraid of cars, because they are not used to the traffic after so many years. All codes are different. Reinserting itself is difficult but possible ”, commented Father Conti.
“ We help people to discover that they have the power to change their reality if they do not like it as it is. We inspire people and train leaders, but to be the leaders of others, first you have to be the leader of your own life ", said the partner of Experience Líderes.
It must be borne in mind that prisoners are people who have erred way and that they must comply with an effective sentence for the damage caused to society. But if prison is transformed into a punishment from which they come out more resentful, we will have more and more crime.
From faith, whatever the religion, or from coaching, the prisoner can be guided to take charge of his past . Deep reflection legitimizes the transformation, and with the appropriate tools the prisoner can be the protagonist of a better future, because assuming responsibility enables this lasting transformation over time.