Beirut, Lebanon - Lama*, an inmate at Beirut’s women’s prison, bent down over her sewing machine. Piled next to her is a heap of vibrantly coloured sheets that fill the air with the scent of fresh fabric.
“Life doesn’t stop with imprisonment,” Lama said as her needle glided through the fabric. “You can build hope with your own hands.”
Lama spoke loudly to be heard over the clatter and rhythmic hum of 20 sewing machines perched on tables around the room, where women gather every day to sew.
“When I first entered prison, I didn’t even know how to put a thread in the needle,” Lama laughed.
Then Lama signed up to participate in a sewing workshop led by Mouvement Social, a non-governmental organization active in supporting prisoners in Lebanon. It is one of several rehabilitation activities supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help prisoners re-integrate into society after they complete their sentences.
Lama and her fellow inmates learned how to sew pillows, bed sheets, and towels to generate income for themselves. As she saves the money she earns, Lama envisions a future where she can use her new skills to start her own business and create a better life for herself outside of prison.
The linens created by the women are included in health kits distributed to inmates across Lebanon, in an effort to ensure that all prisoners are provided with basic needs like bed sheets and towels.
Lama was proud that her work helped other inmates preserve their dignity. “It makes me happy to know that I am able to make a difference while in prison, because hygiene is a right of every prisoner.”
The sense of responsibility Lama gained in the workshop did more than give her a new skill set. It “changed my mentality,” she marvelled. “I started interacting with other inmates. The positive change in my behaviour led to a reduction in my sentence.”
Lama’s story serves as a reminder that #PrisonersMatter. Though they are often a forgotten population, viewed of as ‘separate’, prisoners are a product of and remain part of our societies.
The vast majority of the 11.2 million prisoners worldwide will be released – and what happens to them when they are behind bars affects us all in many ways. When we reduce the scope of imprisonment, improve prison conditions, and enhance social reintegration prospects, we make our societies safer.
“Because of this activity, the new Lama can say loud: Don’t underestimate the power of second chances,” Lama said confidently. “Change is possible.”
*Name changed to protect privacy
Join the #PrisonersMatter campaign here.
This activity is implemented by UNODC within the framework of the project “Strengthening the detention conditions and the national capacities to deal with individuals with offences related to terrorism, including access to remote justice in Lebanon” funded by Canada and the “enhancing access to justice, fundamental rights safeguards in the criminal justice system, and independent justice oversight mechanisms” project funded by the European Union.