Being released from prison is often a scary, complicated and difficult experience. This is especially true when you are unsure about where you will go, how you will earn money and how your family will receive you. In the prison system in Senegal, resources for readjustment, housing or job searching are few. Because of these limitations, Tostan’s Prison Project focuses heavily on the successful reintegration of detainees into their communities. In a recent trip to Tambacounda, on behalf of former detainee Assane Ba*, Prison Project team members were able to view the complexities of reintegration first hand.
Assane Ba served a total of 12 years for armed robbery and was housed in two prisons, Camp Penal in Dakar and the regional prison of St. Louis. When he was in Camp Penal, he participated in Tostan Prison Project sessions on a regular basis. Tostan’s Prison Project is a modified version of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), implemented in five Senegalese prisons. The program focuses on human rights, health and hygiene, problem solving, project management, literacy and numeracy. The Project also provides training in income-generating activities, such as soap making and fabric dyeing, and family mediations for those who have difficulties reconnecting with their families.
Because Assane received no family visits, the Prison Project team carried out a mediation with his family in Goudiry, in the region of Tambacounda, to encourage them to contact Assane. Although Assane’s family were willing to discuss the situation with the team, they remained hesitant to get in touch with him because of his crimes and because of their lack of financial resources to travel the nine hours to Dakar by public transportation. This mediation took place six years before Assane was released from prison, and during this time, he never met with his family. Upon his release last April, Assane returned to his wife and two children in the city of Tambacounda, 72 miles from his family home. Though his wife allowed him to stay, she was unhappy about Assane’s lack of work. His wife’s frustrations and the continued tensions with his family in Goudiry encouraged Assane to contact the Prison Project coordinator, Aissatou Kébé, and request a second family mediation.
The team visited Tambacounda on July 1 and stayed for five days, to see how they could mediate a better relationship between Assane, his wife, and his extended family, and to help him start an income-generating activity allowing him to contribute financially to his family. The team met with his wife and traveled to Goudiry where they spoke with Assane’s mother who agreed to accept him and forgive his mistakes but wasn’t able to make decisions for the family when her other sons were not present. Because Assane’s brothers were unable to be located during the team’s visit, Assane’s mother agreed to talk to them and Tostan regional staff promised to help mediate if tensions continued.
Assane’s wife was reluctant to talk at length with the team. According to Assane, in order to support their two daughters while he was in prison, she had been earning money through prostitution. Despite Assane’s requests, his wife decided to continue this work until there was money coming into the house from another source. The team offered a start-up fund of 100,000cfa ($200) with the condition that Assane created a business plan and used the money for income-generating activities. During his time in prison, Assane had participated in aviculture training organized by Tostan and he expressed an interest in learning more about this. Luckily, he had a friend in Tambacounda, a teacher who also had a large henhouse. The team visited Assane’s friend and the henhouse and was very impressed with the work. Assane’s friend agreed to extend his support and knowledge to Assane in order to help him to turn his life around. Assane’s wife accompanied the team on their visit to the henhouse and expressed happiness and confidence in her husband’s choice of work. With his wife’s support, Assane plans to invest 100.000cfa in raising 125 chickens and learning more about the trade with the assistance of his friend. The Prison Project team hopes that when Assane begins to earn money from this activity, he will be able to support his family.
Throughout these five days in Tambacounda, the Prison Project team gained valuable insights into the difficulties Assane was having with his family as well as his determination to change his life. Assane described his life before going to prison as dishonest, never earning any money in a legitimate way. He explained that his participation in the Tostan program while in prison had helped him gain the necessary confidence and determination to be a responsible citizen. Starting over after prison is not an easy task, and the support of your family matters more than ever. Assane contacted the Prison Project so that they could help him reconnect with his family and stay on a better path. During their five day visit, the team addressed both financial issues and family matters, and the results will hopefully allow Assane to succeed with his future endeavors.
The Prison Project team wishes Assane the best and will continue to follow up on his progress with the help of Tostan regional staff in Goudiry.
Story by Kaela McConnon, Tostan.
*Names and locations have been changed in order to protect the identity of individuals.