HOW MUCH CAN WE CORRECT: Celebrating Valentine with Inmates at a Correctional Facility in Delta State

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The month of love as they call it is behind us, but the acts of love should never stop even towards those we may deem as undeserving. I was consumed with the thoughts of love this past month. In particular, I spent a lot of time which also influenced today’s write-up pondering about how societies loved. How do we as a collective show love to those who have hurt us as a society by breaking the moral contract binding us? This is one of the greatest tests of love.

The four-letter word is one of the most potent tools that can be used in transforming people for the better. A tool most societies can benefit from. For this reason, I commend the thinking behind changing the name from Prisons to Correctional Facilities as this goes a long way in influencing the approaches adopted to help modify inmates into better citizens of a society or country. I believe that the quality of approach towards correctional facilities makes a difference.

Humans have been accustomed to prison as a place of suffering, hard labour, punishment or death. Does this change a criminal? Does it stop a murderer from being a murderer when released? Does time served to make one a changed person or does it just condemn you?

Some correctional facilities are ‘correctional facilities’ in name only. They are poorly managed both environmentally and psychologically with little regard for the physical and mental welfare of the inmates. Although certain rights of an individual are deprived of them as well as their liberty, it doesn’t take away from the fact that these inadequacies are a huge rock crushing the rights of these prisoners. 

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) under Chapter IV recognizes the rights of prisoners while Article 5(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights provides that:

“All persons de­prived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. There shall be no dis­crimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, reli­gion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, prop­erty, birth, or another status.”

Correctional facilities should be where character modification takes place even as punishment is being served.We expect these inmates to come out well rehabilitated and a different per­son from their old self and improve their quality of life and contribution to society.

Are we determined to modify the inmates before sending them back into society or are we trying to punish them and harden them when they get back in society with us?

We should be asking these questions and not how much labour they get. A hardened criminal can spend fifty years and still come out as a hardened criminal.

Do they have access to educational materials? Do they have access to materials that could help shape and shift their mindset towards life? Do they have access to good food and water? How do we as free citizens treat the incarcerated?

I was elated when I received the invitation from the Courageous Girls, Women and Children Initiative, an NGO that I have collaborated with before on Skill Acquisition for Girls, Women, and Children, to spend valentine with them and over 250 inmates both men and women at Agbor Correctional Facility. Courageous Girls, Women and Children Initiative, an organization that has been in existence for a while, is committed to initiating economic growth and community development through various empowerment programs aimed at young girls and women. They also seek justice for the oppressed and wrongful imprisoned female and rehabilitate female ex-prisoners to produce women who are empowered, uplifted and equal partners in the society.

It was to be a whole day event featuring cooking, eating, and dancing. It was my first-time celebrating valentine and would go down as one of my best celebrations and a life-changing event because I believe we should show love every day in our lifetime. Waiting to celebrate love on a particular day set aside is new to me because I show love daily with my dealings with humans and the world at large, but on this particular day, 14th Feb. 2022, I saw a different person in me. I was very much at home with the inmates and the facility officials, we discussed crime, welfare and how prepared we are as free men and women to help rehabilitate the inmates, considering that there are more criminals outside the prison facility that have not been caught, judgedand jailed.

The late great Nelson Mandela once said that “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of”.

When I delivered my lecture to the inmates and facility officials, I looked around and saw very few dry eyes not just amongst the facility officials but the inmates as well. So, I came home thinking about how much can we change? How many times had they listened to a similar speech?

Though we celebrated with 250 inmates, there are thousands of criminals out there amongst us that have stolen, murdered, kidnapped,duped and committed and still committed acts of wickedness and terror. They are out there, like free men flaunting their wealth to the anger of yet to be criminals.

In this particular correctional facility, with its clean and well-manicured environment, I found great joy sittingunder the tree on a very hot day without an artificial canopy reflecting.

This reflection, made me consider the title, “How much can we change”? Because if we don’t change those that are free, it will be difficult to correct those that incarcerated.

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