Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Lessons from Literature Part 3 – Notes on a Brazilian Prison called Humaita

For context, you can read Lessons from Literature Part 1 here:

Taken from ‘How Not to Pray’ by Jeff Lucas, Chapter 8, Page 122. 


"Charles Colson tells of visiting a prison in the city of Sao Jose dos Campos, one that was turned over by two Christians twenty years ago:

They called it Humaita, and their plan was to run it on Christian Principals. The prison had only two full-time staff; the rest of the work is done by inmates. Every prisoner is assigned another inmate to whom he is accountable. In addition, every prisoner is assigned a volunteer family from the outside that works with him during his term and after his release. Every prisoner joins a chapel programme, or else takes a course in character formation.

When I visited Humaita, I found the inmates smiling – particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates, and let me in. Wherever I walked I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs. Humaita has an astonishing record. Its recidivism rate is 4 percent compared to 75 percent in the rest of Brazil and the United States. How is all this possible?

I saw the answer when my guide escorted me to the notorious punishment cell used for torture. Today, he told me, that block only houses a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key into the lock, he paused and asked, ‘are you sure you want to go in?’
‘Of course,’ I replied impatiently. ‘I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.’ Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates- the prisoner Jesus hanging on the cross.
‘He’s doing time for all the rest of us,’ my guide said softly."