POVERTY, THE BANE OF FREEDOM
Talk delivered by
Rev. Peter K. Sarpong,
Archbishop of Kumasi
International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care Congress
Prisons in the Third Millennium Challenge the Church, State and Society
Ireland -5th-12th September, 2003
We are all born free, indeed in the image and
likeness of God himself (cf. Gen. 1:
26). Unfortunately, often we are
in bondage We can be slaves to
ourselves. We are sometimes slaves
to our physical bodies; often we are slaves to the environment and at other
times we are
slaves to our brothers and sisters to whom we may be indebted. We
can be slaves to the State, we are
sometimes slaves to power but, above all, we can be slaves to our
own selfrighteousness. All this, in
Christian terms, is due basically to our state of original sin.
Once we mention sin, then we are
talking about slavery to self since it was the worship of ourselves that
ended our forefathers in the dreadful disruption of the Friendship between them and their Creator.
The slavery due to ourselves
often has a repercussion on our society. We
are gregarious by nature, our social character
is not just a trait, it is essential. Without other people, we would not be human beings. Our
human nature is fully actualised when we interact with other human
beings, accept our obligations in society, take part in rituals in society, acknowledge
our rights, follow the traditions of our society; in other words when we
are cultured. But our enslavement of
ourselves often makes us act against
our nature as social beings and so commit acts that
are disapproved by the rest of society. These acts are sometimes brushed aside as inconsequential to the overall
good of society. But some of
these acts too are so serious
that they need to be punished.
Forms of Punishment
Every society has, over the
years, devised ways of dealing with aberrant citizens in these societies, citizens who do not follow the
norms and regulations made by the society or even by nature for the survival of society and for the
decent living of its citizens.
Rationale for Imprisonment
brings us to the rationale behind imprisonment. All of us know this.
Imprisonment has been resorted to as revenge.
One pays for one's actions in the
form of tit for tat or tooth for tooth
or eye for eye. You do something evil in the society and you are punished for
it. But imprisonment too has a corrective character.
It is hoped that the person going to prison will come
To this effect, trade and other
skills are taught in prison. Imprisonment has also a
protective effect. It shields the society from dangerous elements, which could be a menace
to it, such as murderers, rapists and robbers. Modern Africa has wickedly
invented a new type of imprisonment, the preventive
detention. This type of
imprisonment is presumably and
cynically meant to protect the prisoner from the anger of those who are supposed to be offended by him who would otherwise be tempted to take the
law into their own hands by revenging
when they see him free. At the end of the day, however, preventive detention
is only a very clever camouflage for power-drunken leaders to get rid of
citizens who have dared to challenge their authority or are suspected to be capable
and prepared to do so. Imprisonment
provokes in people the sentiment of vengeance It also generates aversion from
prisoners so that even when they are released, they are not acceptable in their
homes. It comes to ostracism.
Causes of Imprisonment
what are the causes of imprisonment? They are legion, indeed
impossible to enumerate. People
know the consequences for bad behaviour and yet every society has prisons to take in criminals. Why? The answers are many. Some people are inclined towards evil and
crime and they almost cannot help
it People such as sex perverts and kleptomaniacs are simply sick. Some succumb to peer pressure to commit crime;
some are lured into the action before they realise its implication, some are simply
deceived; some are driven by anger, shame, desire to revenge, and so on, to commit one crime or
for Africa, I would like to place poverty at
the hub of the causes of criminality. Poverty in Africa can be abject and dehumanising. It
is often such that it makes young men and women desperate. They must eat but where do they get
the means from? The only way out for
them is to commit crime, whether it be prostitution or drug trafficking or
robbery or extortion or whatever.
is the mother of the brain drain, which takes away the best human skills from
our countries, rendering our
poverty-stricken nations even more miserable. Many African young people now leave their countries for Europe
and America in search of greener pastures. Some are lucky enough to get jobs but some have no
hope of ever being employed and must fall
on crime for survival. There is no prison in any big city in Europe where you
cannot find a Ghanaian of this
Poor Prices for Raw Materials
results from poor prices offered by rich nations for our raw materials. In the
latter part of the 70s and early
80s, one ton of cocoa was selling for £3,000, now it is around £800. The result is that if in those days one could buy a
car for £3,000, then one had only to produce
one ton of cocoa and one had a car. Now, by that calculation alone, one has to produce more than 3 tons of cocoa and, what is
worse, the car does not cost £3,000 anymore. It costs £12,000 and so one has to produce more
than 12 tons to acquire what one could acquire in 1978 with one ton. The land is the same
for the cultivation of the cocoa except that the yield has gone down
considerably because in the course of
the years, the land has
become more and more infertile. How
can any nation, which depends upon gold for its livelihood, ever hope to be economically solvent when the price
of gold vacillates between S220 and S360
per fine ounce? To make a reliable budget becomes a problem and this is the lime
when the populations of African
countries are increasing.
The Result of Poverty
result of poverty is disease and hunger. Disease prevents people from working.
Because they cannot work, they
become hungry. because they are hungry, they become sick. The circle is vicious. It leads to crime and crime leads
Challenge to the Church
All this throws a tremendous challenge to the
Church. The Church it is that has the duty to educate the people to accept their relatives who
have been imprisoned and not reject them. After all, those in prison are not necessarily the
worst criminals in society. The hardened, pathological criminals are often able to avoid
detection or to buy their way through.
whilst poverty may not account for the whole incidence of imprisonment, it plays
a very considerable part in
it. Therefore, in the 3th millennium, it is hoped that the Church will double up her efforts to preach the gospel of mercy,
the gospel of compassion, the gospel of life, the gospel of sensitivity to one another, the
gospel of hard work, with a view to
2. showing the way, to especially the youth, to
self-reliance in their own environment.
the indispensable role families should play as the first school of prevention of imprisonment. Families should do all they
can to bring up the child in such a way that the resulting adult is responsible and God-fearing.
Adults must realise that sin is selfimprisonment, even if
one is not caught committing it.
sum up, I know some of you know the story. It happened to me personally. I was
going to South Africa in August
2000 for 2 meetings, one organised by the Papal Council for Justice and Peace on poverty and reduction of poverty,
reconciliation and peace. Before the end
of that meeting to be held in Swaziland, f would leave for another meeting
organised by the International
Committee on Prisons in South Africa. There t would give a talk on the theological aspect of the theme connected with
prisons. When I arrived at Johannesburg airport, I was picked up by a friend. On arrival at
her house. 5 healthy men pounced on us and at gunpoint deprived me of everything I had And
there was I going to speak about Justice
South Africa, during
apartheid days, was the topic of the day. Everybody condemned the inhuman system of apartheid. That political monster
is no longer there but the substitute is worse. Social crime has become so rampant and so bad
that in a country of about less than 50 million inhabitants, 40,000 cases of rape had been
recorded in 8 months that year. How do we prevent imprisonment and degradation of the human
person in such situations?
I have no doubt in my mind
that it is the Church s duty, this millennium to proclaim in this culture of death, leading to poverty and
degradation, what Pope John Paul II calls the Gospel of Life in all its forms, welcome or unwelcome.
(a) bad as prison conditions are, they are better
than conditions at home?
they are rejects in society and considered a disgrace to society and,
especially, to their families and
they themselves believe that this is the only way to prevent them from
committing crime, leading to
(a) of the State
(b) of the nature of society, and
(c) of the individual?