Sunday, August 14, 2011

Prisoners Have No Skills

Carpenter John, so named because…he is a carpenter…has been chaplain at Bugembe Prison for more than 10 years. He watches minimum security prisoners leave and return, leave and return, thus repeating their cycle of crime in large part because of poverty. Carpenter John said the reason these prisoners keep returning is primarily because they have no skills. He wants to bring in a tailor to teach people how to sew on the machine he purchased for them a while ago. He wants the people to have some skill or trade, something simple, so they can earn some little money for themselves when they are released and ultimately stay out of the system.

Something about the thinking that “prisoners have no skills” stuck with me. I’ve been teaching that we’re created in God’s image and if that is true then we must have skills because he has gifted them to us. Sometimes we automatically assume things about people who end up in prison…so I challenged John about this thinking. I challenged him to see everyone has having some skill, perhaps not formal training but everyone has some gift that can be useful in society. I suggested that we find out what those skills are and then create a program whereby the prisoners with more advanced skills can teach the others.

John is a bit fearful about starting a program of training and then having the trainer be released and having nothing to show for the work. I challenged John to see the training as small bites. Even if something like tailoring cannot be taught in entirety, teach those interested how to sew with a needle and thread, how the sewing machine works, and how to make a straight stitch. Each of these topics could be done independently and would add value to the lives of learners even if they only got one of these topics before they left.

I love to create scenarios where Ugandans take the lead and don’t look to mzungus to fix everything. John is responsible for this project in the prison and the prisoners are responsible for their teaching and learning.