PARAGUAY, GERMANY, FR Leonhard Erhard •
“I was already curious and am enthusiastic when I recall my experiences of the prison pastorate in the diocese”: The German version of the website of Casa Madre de Tuparenda was hardly on line before the first visitor announced himself. Fr Leonhard Erhard (retired) had celebrated his 80th birthday a few weeks before. We asked him for “more”. Here is his comment …
While I was working for Caritas, the prison pastorate was one of the pastoral areas, and among the institutions there was also the prison for young offenders in Niederschönefeld in the buildings of a secularised Cistercian monastery. While I read the policy of Casa Madre de Tuparenda I noticed a number of details:
Not quite alone
The whole facility is designed to resemble free family life. It was a joy for me, because of the contrast with a 16-year-old lad who was alone in his cell, and who was occupied with punching out parts for the heels of women’s shoes for a shoe factory. Still today I can hear his heartrending plea to be taken out of his isolation and from having to work on his own. My impression was of a weak personality who needed a clique, and who had landed in prison with other members of that clique. Helpless on his own, he was incarcerated on his own, and for the prison personnel the only thing that mattered was for things to happen without any problems. This enabled me to see with joy the completely contrasting basis of this project for the maturation of young men.
Rescue and strengthen
As an institution with a family spirit that picks up young offenders it offers optimal conditions I would have wished another young lad. The judiciary offered him early release on account of good behaviour, and the prospect of stabilisation if he came into good surroundings after his prison sentence. When his family was asked, his mother totally refused to be bothered with the good-for-nothing in their family. They wanted their peace.
Since there was no other agency I had to tell him this, which still chokes me, and makes me all the happier that this project has precisely the opposite attitude and is designed to rescue just such young men. The opportunity offered by the judiciary for an early release could have been an incredible incentive for that young man’s stability, but the mother’s need for family harmony killed it in the bud.
Even if that is a negative example, I am happy that on the peripheries of our prosperous world such conditions for life exist and the wounds inflicted on a soul can be healed.
Then the electricity failed
When I surveyed the job possibilities from gardening to baking, etc., I remembered some news that arrived in the Caritas office. During his time in prison a young lad trained as a baker in the relatively simply equipped prison bakery. While it was usually difficult to accommodate the people in an acceptable business after their release (because there were terrible consequences if they were abused somewhere as workers), we quickly found bakeries which needed workers, because there is a permanent lack of applicants. A sudden blackout immobilised this hi-tech business for a few hours. The former offender was the only one who could carry on working. It gained him the immediate respect and appreciation of everyone, and a gain in his own self-esteem that contributed to an incredible stabilisation of his whole personality. For him it was a tremendous joy, which he felt he had to share with us, because he wanted to confirm that he had not made us look foolish.
This confirms the design of a project with such possibilities to learn professional abilities in a simple form, so that the lads can feel strong and secure when the average consumer of our automated society feel helpless.
Original: German, 10.03.2019. Translation: Mary Cole, Manchester, England