x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Prison volunteers help rehabilitate inmates

Visits by volunteers provide a welcome link to the outside world for prisoners - and help in their rehabilitation.

DUBAI // Visits by volunteers provide a welcome link to the outside world for prisoners - and help in their rehabilitation.

Church groups are permitted weekly visits to speak to groups of 10 women, while other volunteers, some from charities, meet prisoners on a one-to-one basis.

They often address fears about life outside the prison walls, comforting the prisoners and helping them to stay strong.

"They worry they will continue to follow temptation and we remind them they must continue to withstand this." said one volunteer, DM.

Another volunteer, MF, who visits with a Christian group, said the visits often helped to calm more aggressive prisoners.

"There is a tremendous improvement. They seem to get peace of mind and we feel like we are answering God's call by helping them."

For many inmates who are far from home, were it not for the volunteers, there would be no visits at all.

"I actually look forward to the meetings because seeing us brings a smile on their face," said P Nadkarni, a volunteer with a Dubai charity.

"They are full of gratitude that someone remembers them."

Topics of conversation vary. Some prisoners want to talk about their crimes, others prefer not to. But having any such conversations has been made easier since the prison moved from Jumeirah to Al Aweer.

One long-time volunteer said that at the old Jumeirah prison a net separated the visitors from the prisoners.

"We had to stand and talk from a distance," said the volunteer. "We shouted, actually, because there was a big gap and there were many visitors talking to many prisoners at the same time. It got very tiring."

Now the visits take place in specially designated rooms, and last between 30 minutes to more than an hour. Any money donated by volunteers to purchase soap, towels, toothpaste, tea or food is given directly to prison wardens. Some volunteers send money to the inmates' families to help educate their children or pay for their upkeep.

Often the volunteers' own families and friends cannot understand why they spend time with prisoners convicted for crimes such as murder.

"My response to people is that you can never judge others," said Ms Nadkarni.

"You can never say what you would do if you are in a tough spot in your life. I will feel fulfilled if I get them back on their feet. I believe they have learnt their lesson in prison."

The prisoners, in turn, are grateful.

"No one comes to see us, no one," said one prisoner from India. "We have no standing in society, nothing. But when they (volunteers) come to meet us, it gives some meaning to our lives."

rtalwar@thenational.ae