Diaconia: Rehabilitation of released prisoners
The Brotherhood of the Great Martyr Anastasia the Releaser offering church rehabilitation to released prisoners
Our Newsletter in its March 1998 issue had an article about the church service carried out in prisons by the Brotherhood of the Great Martyr Anastasia the Releaser. For the last fours years, much of what was planned as desirable has been realized. Reality however has made significant amendments to the initial ideas. They have often been results of unfortunate mistakes and bitter disillusions. We believe it useful therefore to offer our experience to those who have chosen the same path, so that they could avoid steps which have proved to be failures.
We will talk about the creation of a rehabilitation system for recently released prisoners. In our case they are mostly juvenile delinquents from the reformatory at Kolpino near St. Petersburg. We have divided work with them into the following three stages:
The principal goal of rehabilitation is to help one develop stable habits of righteousness corresponding to one's new worldview acquired in inchurching when in prison. Our experience has shown that even if one has come to realize and even to feel keenly one's sins and the malignancy of one's life before prison, this new awareness does not at all guarantee that one will lead a stable church life, or simply socially secure life, after one's release. Normally, a long time and one's own efforts and well-considered external conditions are required for basic righteousness to become firmly established in a person.
Rehabilitation should begin already in prison. The Kolpino reformatory has a chapel in which the Divine Liturgy has been celebrated for the last six years. The priest and his lay helpers in their talks with those who come to the chapel try to identify the inmates who need our help and wish to receive it. At this stage it is necessary to make the following efforts:
These tasks can be fulfilled only in personal talks between inmates, especially teenagers, and their visitors from the center. Talks about faith and devotion with a large audience are of little use here. More helpful are talks tete-a-tete or in a small group of 5 or 7 people. The best way to relate is to arrange common activity around a common task. In our case, it is work in the art studio directed by our icon-painter and in the medical aid post where nurses work. There may be other occasions for spiritual relations, such as common work to build or decorate a prison chapel, work in workshops or a greenhouse under the guidance of a believing person, etc. This may be a priest of course, if he spends long enough time at the reformatory. Unfortunately, we, clergy, are given time only for conducting divine services. Very positive results have been achieved through inmates' talks with seminarians.
The social circumstances of inmates with regard to their dwelling places, relatives, etc., should be found out while they are still in the reformatory. It is important here to come in close cooperation with the reformatory administration which normally has all this information. It is helpful also to visit the dwelling place or the family of an inmate to asses the situation personally and to establish contacts with his relatives. This task requires a sensible social worker who will continue to manage an inmate's affairs after his release. In this way, a group of potential charges of the rehabilitation center is formed while they are still in the reformatory. We have already come to know them well enough to form at least a general idea of how they are going to regulate their life after the release.
The center in St. Petersburg can accommodate 8 newly-released prisoners for at least 3 months. The primary aim during their stay is to help them settle their social problems, namely, to obtain papers and resume residence permit, accommodation and social relations. This is done by the social worker and, if necessary, by the lawyers' office cooperating with the Brotherhood. The center's charges are immediately subjected to a full medical checkup at the Botkin Hospital with which we have concluded an appropriate contract. If necessary, they receive out-patients' aid in the center or treatment in hospital. Their life in the center is half-closed. A mentor stays with them around the clock, taking care of the day routine, waking and retreating time, morning and evening prayers, departure for work, and arranging their leisure time at nights and on week-ends. The charges are obliged to come to all the divine services at the Church of St. Anastasia the Releaser, to which the center is attached. They make confessions and communicate on a regular basis. Once a week, our charges work together with the sisterhood at the Intercession Hospital, nursing bed-patients. As a rule, they are very willing to do this work. At present they are mainly engaged in the work to repair and accomplish the building of the Brotherhood and that of the center itself. There are plans to set up production workshops at the Brotherhood to make the inmates more busy. Clearly, their maximum engagement in meaningful and well-organized work is one of the principal conditions of success in their rehabilitation. Among important elements of rehabilitation are contacts between the inmates and the Brotherhood members and parishioners of our church, their participation in common tasks and celebrations and continued contacts with the brothers and sisters who used to visit them in the reformatory, that is, their integration in the church milieu. We seek to pay attention to the cultural development of the inmates. Mentors organize for the inmates to go for walks in the streets in St. Petersburg in their spare time or on excursions to museums, to see video-films and to discuss them and the like. Experience has shown that in order to create a stable psychological atmosphere in a group, it is better to put in it former prisoners and people with no criminal record but in need of help and support. For this reason we usually have in our center two or three homeless people or refugees or those who have left children's institutions and found no place to live. Those of them who have no definite prospects to settle down to an independent life and show good qualities are kept for a longer time to get accustomed to the new way of life. A three-month stay in the center in close contacts with the Brotherhood makes it possible for us to choose those who are fit socially and psychologically to stay in our country center in the Pskov Region.
The long-term center is located 12 kilometers away from Pushkin's Hills near the city of Pskov. It can host up to 20 participants in its rehabilitation program conducted by four mentors working in shifts and managed by an administrator. The inmates live in double-bed rooms; there is a refectory and workshop facilities. The economic basis of the center is farming. We have cows, calves, pigs as well as green-houses to grow all kinds of vegetables and fodder crops. The household has two tractors, a KAMAZ truck and Sobol car. Normally the inmates stay in the center for a year or longer. The aim of their stay is to become serious and conscious members of the Church, to develop stable work habits and to learn a trade. They do the latter at the vocational school at Pushkin's Hills. Within a year they can learn the trade of machine-operator there and obtain a driving license. The inmates make confessions and communicate on a regular basis at the Svyatogosky Monastery. A priest-monk comes to visit them once a week, to conduct a prayer service and a talk. This plays a great positive role in the life of the center and we are grateful to the monastery cooperation. We seek to give the inmates an opportunity for testing themselves in various kinds of farming work. It may be technics, construction, vegetable cultivation, animal farming, etc. Most of them soon choose one among these activities to specialize in it. As a prospect for their future we offer them to stay in the country, to buy or build a house for themselves, to acquire a family and a household without loosing touch with the center. Recently one of our charges married a local girl; now they stay and work together in the center. He has a house in poor repairs in the Leningrad Region, but the money he can gain from selling it can buy him quite an acceptable place close to our center. Thus the young couple has a real opportunity to build their further life in the country.
The products produced by the center's farm are used for its own table, while the rest is sold by the Brotherhood to parishioners. Half of the earnings go to the center's budget, the rest distributed to the inmates according to their contribution to the common work. Normally, money is not given to the inmates but spent as they wish together with their mentors. Some of the inmates prefer to use some of their earnings to buy animals for themselves in order to breed and sell them on their own. We encourage such initiatives as helping to prepare inmates for independent house-keeping.
The main problem in our country center is the absence of church environment to surround the inmates and serve as an example of how their future life may be built. The ideal is to establish such a center at a village parish where the families of the priest and some parishioners could set the natural tone of life through common work, church and family celebrations, trips, etc. In such a situation, much of what we have to explain at length would be self-evident. Perhaps, we will look for church families who wish to settle down in the village and take part in the life of the center. But in our case too, we have achieved considerable results as many of our inmates after a year or longer in the center have left for cities or their native villages to continue there their church and work life.
It is impossible to describe in a brief article all the aspects of the life and education of our charges, but we are ready to share our experience in more detail with those who are interested in it.
Archpriest Alexander Stepanov
Address of the Brotherhood of the Great Martyr Anastasia the Releaser:
196034 St. Petersburg, Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment 39, Tel: 323-28-67Top of the page
Ostrov Rehabilitation Center
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Mt. 24:12)
The social situation in Russia is very grave. The poor material condition of millions has been aggravated by a general moral decline, alcoholism and drug-addiction ever increasing in scale. The results are broken families and children's ill fortune.
Alcoholism is perhaps the most vivid manifestation of family troubles in Russia. According to official figures, there are from 1,5-2 thousand alcoholics per every 100 thousand people in our country. Experts argue however that they are 3 or 4 times as many, that is, every tenth person is alcoholic.
The National Alcoholic Association (NAA) has publicized summary data on the death rate caused by accidental alcoholic intoxication in the period from January-May 2002. For the five months of this year, 18 224 persons died because of having "one over the eight". In the same period in 2001 they were 16 858. To make a comparison, 35,7 thousand people, both military and civilian, died during the two years of the first Chechen war.
In the Health Ministry's estimation, the consumption of alcohol in the period from 1970-1999 amounted to 14,6 liters per person per year, while the World Health Organization has concluded that the consumption of alcohol exceeding 10 liters per person a year takes a nation beyond the line of irreversible degradation.
There is another important pattern established by sociologists. The dynamics of lethal alcoholic intoxication has proved to be closely bound up with the dynamics of suicides caused by alcohol. Dr. Alexander Nemtsov, head of the informatics and system research department of the Health Ministry's Institute of Psychiatry, in his recent study on Suicide and Alcohol, writes: "Unfortunately, it should be admitted that the population is either not aware that the death of people on a large scale has been caused by mass drinking or believes it to be a natural process. This is what extinguishes hope. The country in a state of intoxication has long forgotten to count its dead".
The country has forgotten to count not only the dead but also the living. The ability to count has survived only with regard to money and what money brings. This is a symptom of tragedy. The nations have lost the instinct of self-preservation. The Russian people resemble someone who has got involved with hoodlums. Who has been ensnared into a shady gateway, cleaned out and beat within an inch of his life. All his vital organs are damaged by blows. His eyes do not see, his ears do not hear, his heart can stop any moment. He has more important things to think about than his home or his family or his hapless children!
Before our very eyes a bitter war is flaring up between good and evil, between God and Satan. And the first victims of this war are children as the most vulnerable and weak of all. If an adult can still use his or her spiritual or life experience to withstand evil, to assess the situation and make a right option, a child or a teenager cannot. They become captives of the environment or those around them. Without even the most primitive knowledge of human social laws, simple taboos and norms, not mentioning the principles of faith, a child begins to live according to the laws of the street, shady gateway or basement. The thick jungle of a big city or a small village, equally saturated as they are today with the poison of false and disastrous television stereotypes, can cultivate a beast child or, even worse, a demon child, if he is not protected by good relations in his family, by the faith of his parents and church sacraments.
Statistics show that 10 % of the 38 million under-age children in our country, that is nearly 4 million, live in extreme conditions. Annually, over 60 thousand out of them become prisoners at the bar because their life conditions leave no choice for them but to steal and rob. From 30 to 40 thousand are in prisons and reformatories. There are 64 of these establishments in our country. From 700 to 1500 homeless children are brought to the Inferior Ministry's social asylums daily.
The state however cannot substitute for a child's family and mother. It cannot substitute for a faithful and just friend, since it itself lives according to laws far from faithfulness and justice.
They say nature abhors a vacuum. So there is never a vacuum at the former Intercession Convent at Ardatov, founded way back with the blessing of St. Seraphim of Sarov, where a reformatory for boys has been situated for many decades.
In 1994, the state returned to our parish the disfigured and desecrated building of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, which for many years had been used as a tool shop of the Sapfir defense plant. Fire had blazed in a gas-fired boiler installed in the Cathedral's south side-chapel of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
The heaviest work to clear the cathedral's enormous space was accomplished by the Ardatov inmates who were sent under supervision to the church by the reformatory administration at our request. The kids broke down the partitions, disassembled suspended ceilings and removed the remnants of the industrial communication lines. Compassionate old women parishioners brought them home-cooked soup and patties as well as warm socks and sweaters. And this little attention, so understandable and natural, was for the reformatory kids an echo of their children's dream of a good family, granny or mom other children had.
The kids who worked to restore the church would come back to thank us and to put a candle after their release. Some asked to stay as they had nowhere to return to or coming back home meant for them to return to the same vicious circle with the only way out back to the reformatory. But we had no place to host them. Some of them were put up by the same old woman parishioners, others had to while away the night at the gatekeeper's lodge. But this did not solve the problem. Then an idea emerged to create something like an asylum to give a temporary shelter to the poor and homeless.
Some time later, some people turned up who gave money to buy a comfortable house near the district hospital. Locals, however, upon learning who will live in that house, began to murmur and write complaints to various official bodies. They were categorically against having former criminals for their neighbors. It took long to persuade them not to make hasty conclusions, not to prevent us from helping one or more of these miserable boys. But time heals even more severe wounds, and a year or even less later the people in neighboring houses came to see that there was no threat to their life or property and that they could let their children out without fear for their health and morality.
The first settlers of the rehabilitation center were three former inmates of the Ardatov reformatory and their mentor was Boris Zykov of St. Petersburg. He had a blessing to do this work from Archpriest Alexander Stepanov, head of the Brotherhood of St. Anastasia the Releaser, who had worked in adult and adolescent reformatories for many years.
Unfortunately, the first experience was not quite a success. We came to the sad conclusion that even a small number of former inmates gathered together even in the most well-organized place represented a mini reformatory with its unwritten laws and asocial relations. Boris Zykov had a hard time of it. His charges did not want to obey him, refused to do dishes, and were reluctant to observe the simplest rules of hygiene. Initially Boris tried humbly and courageously, like a true Christian and hero from an old Book of the Fathers, to do everything himself. He did dishes and washed floors, laundered, took away the garbage can and cooked. This however did not put his inmates to shame. They responded to his patience with jeer and sneers. Moreover, the teenagers began to demand with threats that Boris should serve them. In order to disperse the unruly population of the center one boy had to be sent to the place of his former residence, while another to courses in Nuzhny Novgorod.
We have concluded that there should be no more than two former reformatory inmates in our center. The rest should be children from troubled families, orphans, homeless children and former inmates of municipal orphanages who, being already 16, could not be kept in orphanages any longer by law.
Here is a typical story of a teenager who has got to us. His name is Rodion. It is an assumed name. He was brought to us by a lady from juvenile delinquents' room at a police station. He got to our district by complicated and roundabout ways with a group of construction workers who came to Moscow in search of a job and who picked this poor devil at some point. Initially, out of mercy and momentary readiness to help so typical of Russians, the lads put him up in their families by turns. A deed of charity however is not a penny to be given to a beggar. It is a long chain of actions and decisions which demand time, energy, financial means, and most importantly, patience and readiness to see a stranger at one's home. This should be done day by day, month by month. Few are ready for this. So Rodion found himself at a district police station without any means or plans. He had in his hands only a little dirty piece of paper, which was his birth certificate issued somewhere at the once famous remote Baikal-Amur Railroad in Siberia.
A few days after his arrival Rodion marked his 16th birthday. He joined our team in the rehabilitation center having behind him a sad experience of loosing his parents, homeless wandering, vigils at railway stations, theft and panhandling.
Once, a long time after that, we were sitting together with the kids in the refectory, celebrating someone's birthday. Each tried to remember which of his previous birthdays was the most memorable. When it was Rodion's turn, he, with his characteristically listless half-smile, told us how his drunken father and mother tried to drag him over when he was five or six years old. They scratched him till he bled, pulling him from each other's hands.
Both his actions and words reveal certain dormancy of a person who either cannot or does not want to wake up. He would ask his interlocutor several times to repeat his question before answering it. He is sluggish and lazy. He lacks the enthusiasm of a young life ready to force its way up through asphalt. All you see is emptiness, sluggishness, and dormancy. And only in the very depth of his eyes there is a scared sparkle of curiosity. At the same time, you cannot say he is not intelligent. He willingly takes lessons in piano from one of our woman parishioners. His fingers are long and sensitive. One of our kids, once passing by the piano and Rodion playing something sketchily on it, made a casual remark that his were fingers of a musician or a pickpocket. Both, said another kid.
Once Rodion cropped his hair to the skin, imitating his older friend Ivan from the Center. His scull revealed numerous scars and old abrasions, which could make our bellicose ancestor proud in old times. But nowadays these scars only represent evidence to our defeat in the struggle with Satan. Touching his head Rodion mumbled: this one I got from the father's blow with a stool…
Rodion tells now to one kid now to another in secret but with frightening persistence a story of his father's murder. The story seems to give no rest to him. His father had drunk and kicked up rows since Rodion remembered himself. After doing another time in labor settlements, so generously scattered throughout our vast lands, Rodion's father came back to his small town to unburden his heart by torturing his wife and his small son. One can only guess what happened behind the walls of their shabby flat, adding up in one's imagination all kinds of domestic nightmares of our agonizing time.
The mother began to loose sight already back there, near Chita in Siberia. The beating told on her. Once, after another terrible drinking party and a fight that followed, the father decided to take a bath. The mother asked Rodion to help her. Together they entered the bathroom. While the drunken father shouted at them, splashing out water and abuse, the mother plugged in an electric razor and threw it into the tub. Twelve-year-old Rodion hit the head of the convulsing father with a washbasin, trying to prevent him from getting out of the electrified water.
Then his mother and he left for their relatives' place for a few days and when they came back they reported the decomposed body of the father to the militia. Nobody asked them any questions. The whole town, including the militia, had been sick of him. With relief they wrote his death off as caused by careless handling of electric appliances.
Rodion and his mother had not long to live alone together. They sold their flat and went to remote Moscow in search for a job. The mother was certainly disposed to drinking and promiscuous life. For some time they rented a flat from local drunkards and earned their living by begging in the subway and in the streets. The money was squandered on drinking together with the landlord. This was their payment for the rent. The mother sometimes put on black clothes, hanged a box with an icon over her neck and went to collect money for the restoration of a monastery or a church. As we can see, she collected money to pay for the lift going down to hell.
One winter night, the mother left to never return. By that time she was almost completely blind. Rodion was thrown out of the flat. For a month he wandered around in hope to see at any moment the silhouette lagging out blindly from the electric gloaming of a big city. But he never saw her again.
The absence of a full-fledged family and example of good relations, early introduction to the cruelty and amorality of the street deprive a child from childhood and cripple God's image in him. Therefore, in our Ostrov Sokrovisch ("Treasure Island", as we call it after the habit of one our venerable woman worker to greet the kids with "Well, my treasures, how goes it?") we seek to create at least a likeness of family in which everyone feels no stranger, feels essential. He knows that he can get help at a hard moment, that he will be protected, that he will be assisted in his studies, during an illness, in getting a job, that he can come to this family any time later, provided that he is worthy of this family, that he is not its covert or overt enemy.
The problem of food arose from almost outset in our center. Initially we fed the kids with foodstuffs brought to the church and what we managed to buy on the donations and contributions of a few benefactors. But this was not sufficient. Everybody knows how hearty is teenagers' appetite. Then we decided to found a farm or a subsidiary plot. It was not easy to even choose a place for such a farm. It should not have been far from Ardatov; there must be a relatively operable road leading to it, there must not be many local dwellers. After all, we chose the Obkhod village five kilometers away from our church. There are a good asphalt road, some woods nearby and three small ponds for bathing and fishing. The name Obkhod itself (a roundabout way), according to legend, was given to this small village two or three hundred years ago when stray people used to hide there from the law. Understandably, the locals tried to keep away from it.
There are two big houses in the village, which belong to the center. A third one is being built. Attached to one of them is a joiner's shop in which the kids are taught to work with wood and learn the trade of carpenter. In the vast back yard of this house, a hangar is being built for our machines - three tractors, tents for them, a combine harvester, a separator and two trucks. There is also a granary. It should be mentioned that at present we have nearly 100 hectares of land in which we grow rye, barley and potato. Some of the grain is grind, some is foraged for the cattle, some is saved for sowing in spring, and some is sold.
An animal farm was built next to the second house last year. This year a poultry-yard will be attached to it. The animal farm dwellers are three cows, eleven calves, four bull-calves, three sows, a boar and from twenty to forty piglets. Understandably, this household can sustain more that one person. But it also demands much effort. So our teenagers work there, especially in summer. When the academic year begins, almost all move back to the Ardatov house, with only two or three staying behind to be helped by others in turns in their spare time.
At present there are from 10 to 15 people living in the center permanently. Four or five more come for summer from low-income families to earn additionally and to fatten. A team of six inmates of the Ardatov reformatory comes daily to the village for various kinds of work. In the evening they are taken back to the reformatory. It is not so easy to get on this team of lucky ones; there is a competition. Chosen are those whose discipline is good and who has no reprimands.
One of the basic principles of life in the center is free will and willingness to live according to the simple laws of the "Treasure Island": not to use obscene language, not to bring in people of opposite sex, not to drink spirits and to work diligently. Nobody should live at the expense of others. If one cannot overcome one's laziness and egoism, he will have to leave Ostrov eventually, remaining ever a stranger.
There is one more interesting detail. The kids when they first come to us, especially after a time in the reformatory, regard us as a conventional state-run foster house, in which the indifference of the administration and the connivance of the teachers create an atmosphere of semi-criminal liberty. At the same time, everybody firmly believes that he will be never turned out, that somebody pays us salary and we therefore are obliged to support, please and nourish them. They believe we are accountable to someone above as is often the case; we have a plan to fulfill and we will be punished if someone suddenly fails to get on with us or if we are going to exclude someone. It is only some time later, sometimes a long time later, that they begin to understand that both entry and exit are free in our center. It is only their personal interest in their own fate that is the ground for staying with us. Some do not come to this understanding and have to leave. But such are a minority.
Some regard us, people who try to help them, as morons, brainless milch cows; therefore, there is no harm in milking us. But soon they come to realize that they deal not with chronically sick persons dreaming of getting it in the neck, but with people who are aware of the measure of kindness and severity and the difference between freedom and license.
It is very important that nobody of the kids is subjected to violence in the center, neither physical nor moral. Nobody of the adult staff will ever insult them with an invective, vulgar allusion or sobriquet. This is absolutely excluded. For such an offence, we will part with the perpetrator ruthlessly. Our adult staff, on the contrary, work with the kids selflessly, not sparing their time and energy. For instance, the warden of our church, Valentina Kortikova, who is the mother and the father for them, work with them side by side, doing sometimes the manual and the most unpleasant work.
On the eve of the academic year, Valentina decided not to pay out to our inmates their salary for the previous month because they usually misspend it. The money was to be used to buy clothes, footwear, school things, etc. On Thursdays, there is a fair at Ardatov - a serious and region-wide event. Women are permitted to leave work two hours before lunch-time, and even elderly people who cannot cross the street on their own come to the fair from nearby villages. Valentina with the flock of our charges was threading her way along the stalls, scrutinizing the goods. Almost all of her numerous acquaintances on her way asked: "Valya, are these your grandchildren? They certainly take after you. The first one seems to take after your Nikolay, and the second looks like the granny…" "And I take after the grand-dad", grinned one of the kids.
The experience of life in our big family is still small - three years with two years in the country. We have had to change plans and directions in the process. Initially, it was intended that the kids would stay in the center for six months. Now we see that it is not enough, especially if a child still goes to school or attends a vocational school. And most of our children do. One of the old-timers, Sasha Pulkin, is already a third-year student at an agricultural vocational school. He was enrolled with our help because his nine-year school certificate did not give him any chance to pass the exams. We appealed to the director and the heads of studies and explained the situation to them. Now he is a step away from becoming one of the center's staff. He gives agronomic advice, drives a tractor, a car and a motorcycle, takes an active part in the sowing and harvesting campaigns and attends optional studies on floriculture.
Three of our kids went on September 1 to the Vad settlement to attend a construction vocational school, which is very popular among school graduates and parents in the region. Trades taught there are very prestigious. Among them are gas-fired boiler operator, gas equipment technician, builder and gas welder. After graduation from this school, one can contemplate a high-paid employment and a habitation, let it be in industrial cities in Siberia.
Two of our kids, Dima Redin and Valya Kopeikin, will go to the army in spring. I hope we will be the ones to see them off. We have helped each of them to complete 9 grades of the secondary school and to obtain passports. In autumn, they will attend a three-month driver's course.
The most important thing to do is to introduce our teenagers to prayer, church and sacraments. Even if they are not as zealous as ascetics from Lives of Saints, they are devoted enough to say a prayer before and after meals, to fast, with certain allowances, to go to church, to make confession voluntarily, to take the Holy Communion and to participate in processions with the cross around the church and to the holy place of Diveyevo. For instance, on July 31 this year, the Day of St. Seraphim of Sarov, all our inmates together with the Sunday school children and parishioners went to Diveyevo and stayed there for the night service.
Our efforts are a drop in the sea, of course. We cannot change the situation in the country and in the world. But we will work because it cannot be otherwise. Even if we manage to help only one boy, our efforts will not be in vain. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Sow, sow and how to vegetate is God's work".
Rev. Mikhail RezinTop of the page
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