Harrisho (meaning “sun” in Amharic) is an Ethiopian organization that provides rehabilitative and therapeutic activities for men and women in the prison of Hawassa, Southern Ethiopia.
When Rita — the Harrisho’s founder — asked us to document their work in the prison of Hawassa and to address their communication needs, we recognized a unique opportunity to have a better insight into an hidden side of Ethiopia, listening the inmates’ voices and bringing (almost) legally our cameras in a place where, normally, photo-journalists are not allowed to shoot anything.
Historically, prison life in Ethiopia was (and in some prisons still is) gloomy and — especially for political prisoners — extremely brutal. The so-called process of rehabilitation often consisted of severe beatings, exhausting work, and calisthenics.
Prisons are a mirror showing the soul of a country and in Ethiopia, as in the whole Africa, things are changing very fast (but the line between good and evil is permeable). At a slower pace, they are changing in the country’s prisons too.
Also here, many begin to understand that building prisons alone do not help in reducing crime as well as rehabilitating and improving the lives of prisoners, the majority of whom are often young men and women who end up in prison for petty crimes arising from poverty.
The greater ignorance towards a country is not ignoring what its politicians have to say, it is ignoring what the inmates in its prisons have to say. — Criss Jami
Clearly, the better way forward for such prisoners is to engage them in economically useful activities providing them with education, skill training, and financial services.
The result of this process is that some prisons are no longer the hell they used to be but are becoming centers of positive change where the prisoners endeavor to engage in the country’s development. And, finally, also in Ethiopia, many begin to understand that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.