We are in times of healing. People have wounds, bear heavy burdens and feel tired. Everybody is looking for relief, but where can we find healing?

The other day I went to the 29th Catholic price film awarding ceremony. The winner film this year was " LIFERS: Reaching for Life Beyond the Walls." It is a documentary that shows prisoners (lifers) serving a life sentence cooperating, inside the jail, with "Amity" rehabilitation programs for criminals.

In my involvement with the movement against death penalty I already knew of Ms. Sakagami Kaori, the Director of the documentary, and her husband Mr. Iwai Makoto, former staff member of Amnesty who later on became a lawyer. Ms. Sagami was the person who introduced to Japan the "Journey of Hope" -- the series of conferences given together by the families of American victims and criminals sentenced to death - that Sister Prejean spoke during her last "Speaking Tour" in Japan. (See the last issue of this Bulletin) Ms. Sakagami, a film director for many years, has often concentrated on violence themes of abused children and women, on ill treatment of comfort women by the Japanese military and now seeks after healing and rehabilitation.

Her introduction to the programs of "Amity" for crime rehabilitation brings forth a special interest as an activist against death penalty. This is important considering the atmosphere where many think that, "executions are needed because there is no possibility of rehabilitation." But, once executions were to be stopped, powerful programs for the rehabilitation of criminals will become essential to keep societies safe.


The NPO "Amity" -- friendship in Latin -- started in the State of Arizona (USA) to assist the social rehabilitation of criminals, alcoholic and drug addicts. The movement, already 20 years old, has incorporated therapeutic community skill methods. Amity believes that those criminals, alcoholic and drug users have, one way or the other, been victims of ill treatment during childhood and the wounds received are not healed. They are often still under the effects of that treatment and, unable to sympathize with others and reflect on their lives, run after crime and drugs. Amity conducts workshops to assist the participants to reflect on their life styles, confront their actual life values and learn new ways of living standards.

A characteristic of this movement is that most of the staff members are former prisoners or drug addicts. They had formerly participated in the workshops, received training in counseling and work as staff now. The fact that they have experienced the suffering of the participants strengthens the community spirit of Amity.

This group performs a wide variety of activities, like conducting workshops inside jails for prisoners, continues the programs with communities of 100 persons after their release from prison till their rehabilitation, visits them after rehabilitation and uses therapeutic means for their families. As a result, there are prisons that value highly Amity, because only 26% of those participants in their programs commit new crimes, against 63% of other ordinary criminals that were not in contact with Amity.

The book, "Therapeutic Community --Revival by Living Together--" collects the 2001 Amity Symposium Speeches and most resource materials used at the study program conducted in the year 2002. The book refers not only to Amity activities but also to vivid experiences in Japan.

There are many graphic reports there from grass roots organizations assisting juvenile delinquents to become independent, reformatories, and mental hospitals, peer counseling groups of disable people, Child Assault Prevention programs and Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centers. Among the things that can be learned from those reports are the mutual help persons concerned offer to each other, the high level attitude the staff and participants have, the hope they show to be able to change and their strong will to revise the way of life by sharing past experiences. Without sticking to formalities they show enough elasticity to try anything that looks good. More than anything else, one feels a fresh community there.

It is a community where members have similar painful experiences and support each other with a strong will to revive their lives. This is not limited to the rehabilitation of criminals and drug addicts sick Japanese society can also find here hints to be healed.
(Shibata Yukinori / Jesuit Social Center Tokyo)
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