Monrovia — Two former prisoners convicted for the alleged commission of the crime rape in Kakata, Margibi County have testified to the adequate acquisition of tailoring skills, which have immensely contributed to their transformation, under the European Union Delegation to Liberia's funded Strengthening Democracy and Respect for Fundamental Human Rights of Prisoners program.
The program contributes to strengthening democracy and the respect of fundamental human rights for most vulnerable detainees in Liberia, through the provision of vocational skills training (tailoring), support to inmates for reintroduction into the society (offering of sewing machines through reintegration), and improvements of prison facilities with the creation of a reading and hearing rooms.
It also builds the capacity of staff of the Bureau of Corrections, ensures the installation of a solar panel and a computer with an application/database of inmates, pro bono assistance for court hearing and fast tracking of cases, living conditions improvements, and the provision of health materials and improved condition for visiting nurse.
The program which amounts to 750, 000 Euro (US$800,000) is being implemented by Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development Foundation (SHED) and the Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP) at the Kakata Prison in Margibi County.
It is said to be improving the conditions and empowering convicts and inmates who are being reprimanded for alleged crimes committed.
John S. Fayiah, a beneficiary of the program and resident of Kakata was convicted for statutory rape in June 2014. He was released in 2020 after serving six of his 10 years sentence at the prison facility.
Prior to his incarceration, Fayiah lost his parents and all of his siblings during the heat of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Liberia in 2014.
According to him, the EU funded program played a pivotal role as evidenced by his recent marriage and the decision taken to open his tailoring shop.
He claimed that though he was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, he managed to pay keen attention to the acquisition of a skill in tailoring while in prison to become a productive citizen after he is released.
"I achieved skill in the prison and today, I am living by the skill. Through this skill, today I am a married man. That woman (pointing) - you see over there, is my wife. The Coordinator for Kakata Prison-even what is on him today is one of my productions".
He spoke during a recent visit of the Ambassadors of the European Union, Germany, France and Sweden, among others to the Kakata Central prison in Margibi County.
Take skills seriously
Fayiah used the occasion to urge his colleagues and other inmates who remain incarcerated to take the vocational skills training program funded by the EU very serious.
He noted that though it remains the responsibility of the government to ensure the wellbeing of its citizens, inmates and convicts who are being reprimanded from crimes committed should muster the courage to acquire vocational skills in a bid to adequately prepare for life after prison.
"Today, most of us can be crying 'oh the government-things hard, things hard' because we don't want to do things that will help us. Every one of us want to depend on the government and government will not do all. They will do some, but they will not do all. So, the little you learn; when God blessed you-you go out there; you should stand on it and focus to do something on it tomorrow for your future".
Fayiah told reporters that though he felt "bad" for being in prison for a crime he did not commit, he managed to place keen focus on learning how to sew-a move he claimed-makes him a lovely and respectable person in his community.
A cry for help
Fayiah, however, called on the governments of European Countries that are part of the EU and donor partners to see reason to complement the efforts of those who they have aided while in prison to enable them provide similar training to disadvantaged youths and others in their respective communities.
"I am asking the donors to help us because, the community I am living, lots of people are coming to me and say I should train them. And you can't learn, and you take what you learned and keep it to yourself".
He added that the European Union should help provide those who they have trained with materials to be able to impact the knowledge and skills into those who are willing to acquire vocational skills in tailoring.
Fayiah expressed willingness to train disadvantaged youths and other inmates when he is accorded the requisite support to construct a better shop and purchase materials as part of his contribution towards Liberia's rebuilding process.
He added: "We Liberians are the ones to build Liberia. Liberia cannot be built by different person".
Nathaniel Manneh is another beneficiary of the European Union Delegation to Liberia's funded Strengthening Democracy and Respect for Fundamental Human Rights of Prisoners program.
He was convicted of statutory rape in Kakata on November 25, 2013. He was convicted for 12 years but spent seven years in prison.
He disclosed that following his conviction, he was shortlisted by prison authorities to form part of the program which serves as a mean of survival.
"I want to firstly say thank you to the prison authorities, SHED, Finn Aid and RHRAP for the program at the prison here. I never thought of being a Tailor while I was being confined here; but when the program came, through the Superintendent (of prison)-my name was taken and I participated in the program. I graduated with the skill of tailoring. I am presently out there sewing".
Manneh, however, vowed to "do the right thing", be a law-abiding citizen and concentrate on his skills acquired to realize his full potential.
He noted that though he has not been able to open his personal tailoring shop, he remains grateful for the opportunity accorded him to serve as one of the trainers at the tailoring training program at the Kakata Central Prison.
He expressed joy over the consistent trust and confidence reposed in him and others by school authorities in the county to sew the gowns for their graduates for closing programs.
Giving an overview of the project earlier, SHED Executive Director, Mrs. Joyce Qweglay Pajibo, commended the EU Ambassador and others for taking ownership of their various projects being done in the country.
She disclosed that the project started in 2018 with Finn Church Aid to curtail over crowdedness at various prison facilities across the country.
"There are human rights issues in Liberia but the people in pre-trial detention faced graver issues. Before the inception of this project, their rights were violated without any notice or concern. It might not have been the intention of the law enforcement officers to do that, but we have many laws on books in Liberia, but implementation is any issue. And this was no exception also about the human rights issues faced by people in detention in all of the prisons in Liberia".
"Based on that, SHED, Finn Church Aid and RHRAP thought it wise to advance this project idea to the European Union (EU) to be able to support the prisons particularly with the over crowdedness issue and enforcing and promoting the rights of people in detention and in prison in general".
Madam Pajibo attributed the over crowdedness of prisons across Liberia to low capacity of prison facilities, slow adjudication of cases and the violations of the rights of pre-trail detainees' rights who remain behind bars for more than 30 days, adding that, "people were in prison for more than 60 days, more than a year and dashed there for nothing completely".
"Many of our prisons were built to cater for the small Liberian population that we had before. But right now, as you see, all of the prisons have become overcrowded because our population is growing and the prisons still remain the same. Like this prison that you see here in Kakata-was only built to host 60 inmates. But before this project started in this prison, we had about 190 sometimes.
She disclosed that the population at the prison facility in Kakata has drastically reduced as a result of the fast-tracking of hearings or cases.
Madam Pajibo noted that a psycho-social support component was added to the project to help prevent similar prisoners from being released and returning back to the prison facility on a regular basis.
"We realized in the project that there was no mind transformation process with the work that was being done. So, we added the psycho-social support that is being provided by our lawyers. Secondly, people went into the communities with no skills at all. They saw themselves not being useful to the communities; they felt excluded from the communities. So, we introduced the skill training tailoring program. We have found that component to be very useful".
"The project also addressed issues of awareness on human rights. We hired the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute that comes to do projects on rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights and respect for the rights of prisoners".
For his part, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, described prison as a "very delicate matter in every country".
He emphasized that the rights of prisoners must be protected though they are being reprimanded for alleged acts committed.
He noted that prisoners should also be accorded the necessary support while in prison to enable them become productive citizens in their various communities and the country at large after they are released from these prison facilities.
"For the people who are in this prison-their time here must not be an end; their time here can be a time of new beginning. People have a history; people are here for a reason, but that past must be the past and we must help, through prisons- people to have a future to return to their life or to build a new life".
Ambassador Delahousse further commended the project's donors and implementers for helping to "reintegrate people who have paid for what they did in the past."
He further assured of the European Union's unwavering commitment and support to "deliver to the people of Liberia and the society".
He added that the EU will continue to help "even the people who have suffered themselves" in the Liberian society.