Latvia: Project seeks to help imprisoned women lead a better life

German charitable outfits are providing financial support for a new rehabilitation project in Riga to help women in prison, through which volunteers offer training and creative arts courses, as witnessed by our correspondent in Latvia hosted by Bonifatiuswerk.

By Mario Galgano – Riga, Latvia

Baiba (not her real name) has been in prison in Riga for six years. Three months from now, she will be free again. “I look forward to the day when I can leave prison,” she says in an interview with Vatican News.

Baiba is in the women’s prison because of economic crimes. “At first, it was very difficult for me to be behind bars, and above all I could not make peace with myself, because I did not want to admit even to myself my mistakes,” she says.

The mother of two children and grandmother of three grandchildren has her husband waiting for her release, and he too is happy that she will soon be able to return home.

Making peace with one’s conscience

She enthusiastically enrolled in a welfare project run by the “Ilguciema sievietes” association, and earned three diplomas. A key event for her was also a pilgrimage to Aglona, as the welfare group also offers spiritual programs.

“Through prayer I was finally able to make peace with myself.”

The project includes lectures and practice concerning daily life in freedom. Due to space constraints, a maximum of 15 women can take part. Another 15 female inmates can participate in creative art classes.

“The pedagogical-creative encounter opens the mind and heart,” says Daina Strelevica, director of the project sponsored and funded by the Germany-based Catholic charity Bonifatiuswerk.

Not forgetting women in prison

On average, sentences for those in the programme range from five to six years. The women belong to all levels of society and all age groups.

“It’s easy to send people to prison and then forget about them there.”

Ms. Strelevica says the goal of the project is to help female inmates prepare for life after prison. It also intends to help female inmates recognize their talents. Finally, it wants to help them develop critical thinking and an understanding of society’s problems.

One volunteer with the programme, Ilze Vilka, a Latvian lawyer, helps women in prison understand the importance of the law and their rights and duties.

Another volunteer, Zane Karele, is a psychologist, and her courses shows how former inmates can be reintegrated into society with the assistance of some behavioral and communicative programmes.

An artist, Magone Boleiko, offers participants useful tips on how to improve the environment in which they and their family live with small means and the use of readily available materials.

Ecumenical programme

The support of Catholic welfare organizations is offered in line with Catholic doctrine, and especially corresponds to the solicitude of Pope Francis.

At Ilguciems State Women’s Prison, the care of souls comes first, which is carried out in an ecumenical key since it is carried out by Latvia’s three main denominations.

Catholic pastoral agents also work alongside those of Evangelical Lutherans and Orthodox ministers.