One of the phrases I never believed I would ever say was ‘I’m off to prison’. Hold your gasps…I was not being detained as an inmate, I was merely going on a short tour of the facilities. For drammatic purposes I should say that I was up at the crack of dawn to be at the doors of the Corradino Correctional Facility in Rahal Gdid, with the cold air making chilling my bones to reflect the terror I would be experiencing very soon.
However, it was nothing like that. It was a hot Monday morning, and the facility is actually nothing like I had ever imagined it to be. Along with the rest of the group on tour, I entered through a side door where all the visitors come through. A few weeks before this particular morning we had to give our details such as our names, parents’ names, as well as if we knew anyone in prison, thus ensuring that the process on this morning was fairly straightforward. We presented our ID cards and received a tag with the word ‘visitor’ in return. Then we made our way to another section and were checked and frisked quickly to make sure we did not have anything on us, including phones. Only then could the tours finally begin.
First we were shown the chapel, and next to it, the mosque. Considering Malta is becoming very multicultural, it is good that others can practice their faith as well. The chapel itself was quite stunning, and it was especially surprising to learn that it was taken care of by the actual inmates. The floors were polished, the altar and the niches had been made by hand in one of the workshops. I wish I could have taken a photo then, because it was truly beautiful. It emphasised the capabilities of the ‘criminals’ we are so used to judging, and makes them appear more human rather than society’s delinquents.
What else can inmates during their free time in the facility? There is a football field with turf and a well known Maltese football player trains the team, which also takes part in tournaments. For those who prefer using their hands instead of feet, there are arts and crafts workshops. Everything the inmates make can be sold. The money made is then given to them upon their release. While we were there, an inmate presented the social worker on tour with us a gift as a thank you for all the help she provided them.
Inmates also have the option of following academic courses provided by ETC, MCAST and ITS. Prisoners who are trusted and have good conduct are even allowed to leave the correctional facility to attend these courses. Also, the certificates awarded do not indicate in the slightest that the course was undertaken while in prison.
All these options allow the inmate to have a chance at a better life once they get back out into the real world. One cannot help wondering how there is such a high percentage of prisoners who end up back in jail time despite all these activities to help reintegration into society. Is the problem the correctional facility, or society itself that does not allow them to reintegrate?