Harrisho (meaning “sun” in Amharic) is a small Ethiopian organization that provides rehabilitative and therapeutic activities for men and women in the prison of Hawassa, in southern Ethiopia.
Here, prisoners learn to build crafts that are then sold to tourists in hotels and resorts. The proceeds are divided into equal parts. Every prisoner has a bank account to which he can draw to pay his personal expenses and those necessary to maintain his family.
Prisons are a mirror showing the soul of a country. So, when Rita — the Harrisho’s founder — asked me and Seble to document their work, to address Harrisho’s communication needs and to create a book in collaboration with the inmates, we recognized a unique opportunity to have a better insight into a hidden side of Ethiopia by listening to 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.
But, in Ethiopia — as in the whole of Africa — things are changing very fast (although the line between good and evil is permeable) and, at a slower pace, they are changing in the country’s prisons too.
Many begin to understand that building prisons alone do not help at all in reducing crime. Instead, it is much more effective to invest in 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.
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 | here you can see the book we made in collaboration with the inmates…