Priest’s prison book will rattle your conscience
LIGHT THROUGH THE BARS: Understanding And Rethinking South Africa’s Prisons, by Fr Babychan Arackathara. Burnet Media, 2019. 216pp. R220
Reviewed by Fr Ralph de Hahn
This book by Fr Babychan Arackathara MSFS, a zealous missionary from India working in the archdiocese of Cape Town, should shock and unsettle the conscience of every Christian.
And it should disturb every government department and official involved with inmates in prisons and overcrowded facilities which, in many cases, breed even more dangerous criminals.
This book’s title, Light Through the Bars, is excellent, but it offers much more. Fr Babychan’s book offers a depth of understanding, invaluable insights, human stories that tear at the heart, told with such a fresh breath of compassion and Christ-like love.
It poses the question of why the lives of so many thousands of our brothers and sisters are crucified with years of incarceration because of their unfortunate beginnings in the slums of misery, utter poverty, broken families and, in some regions governed by it, gangsterism.
There is that stigma attached to ex-prisoners which the community is not willing to erase. Fr Babychan (as he is known to all) has over 20 years studied, listened, observed and probed the plight of prisoners deprived of their freedom, and now pleads for a better understanding in treating the problem.
No longer the game of “an eye for an eye”, or that horrible phrase, “Lock them up and throw away the key.” Fr Babychan would rather offer prisoners the key, and, with God’s helping grace, guide them through the corridors of restorative justice; to restore what was lost by their crime!
He is ever hopeful of change in the lives of offenders when their human dignity is respected and restored; when Correctional Services is truly correctional, and when every step is taken to help ex-offenders confidently re-enter society and regain credibility in our communities.
I strongly urge every Catholic to read this book. It will open your eyes and your heart.
I believe it will squash all that prejudice and gross misunderstanding. Get behind those bars, look and listen! It is, indeed, a revelation.
When light and love pour in, the results are miraculous. And just listen again to the Master: “Love one another as I have loved you”, and, again, “What you do unto others, you do unto me.”
So, there you have the measure of our love for God!
The book is available in good bookshops. The proceeds from sales will fund the training of prison spiritual care workers and restorative justice facilitators.