Getting to half way - alone
|(from left) Andreas, Yohana, Yohanes Raharjo, Kelvin Boys, Mohammad Umar and Yonas outside the rumah singgah.|
This month’s (July) spectacular breakout of terrorists from an overcrowded Medan jail highlights the need for prison reform. In East Java ex-convicts are doing it their way. Duncan Graham reports from Malang:
The initiator of a daring social experiment to help former prisoners reintegrate into society, wants his muscular compassion model taken up in all provinces.
Next month (August), prison chaplain Andreas Nurmandala Sutiono, 56, heads to Kalimantan to help establish another rumah singgah (half-way house) based on a successful venture in Malang.
Embedded in a kampong and run by the residents, it’s believed to be the only place of its type in Java outside one in Jakarta.
Andreas (pictured below) said he’s not asking for government handouts. “This has to be done by, for and with former prisoners,” he said. “We have to help ourselves.”
Long before he became a Protestant minister he was irreligious, addicted to gambling, consulting mountain seers for the right numbers in illegal lotteries.
Like many addicts he ‘borrowed’ money, reasoning he’d repay when the numbers matched. The sum was Rp 200 million (US$20,000) and the victim a tapioca processing factory in Lampung where Andreas worked in the finance section.
The rest of the story is depressingly predictable. Wrong number, cash gone, jail for a year. He was 31, married with two small children.
“I was lucky that my wife and family supported me,” he said. “I learned so much in prison. It’s a place where the barriers of religion don’t count for much. When I got out I decided to help those I’d met.”
He studied for the ministry and by chance discovered a talent for cooking, particularly bakso (meat ball soup), and growing vegetables. He’s now licensed to visit jails around the country to promote rehabilitation programs, particularly raising organic produce.
In this role he said he’d advised Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby in Bali’s Kerobokan prison, and celebrity politician Angelina Sondah, jailed for corruption.
The State provides some support for drug users’ rehabilitation – but that’s all, according to Andreas. Half-way houses started overseas last century, some by penal reformers, others by governments trying to contain penitentiary costs.
Despite having no knowledge of such trends, Andreas understood the need. He persuaded a Surabayan man who’d also been behind bars to donate Rp 10 million (US$1,000).
Some was used to buy simple food-processing equipment. Then the NIMBY (not in my back yard) effect struck.
“It was difficult,” Andreas said. “The locals didn’t want ex-prisoners in their area. But the community leader supported me and we kept talking.
“It helped that our people cleaned up the area. Some attend the mosque and are seen as polite and pious. We have an open house – anyone can come in and see what we’re doing. I’m here to help, not convert.”
A Muslim neighbor Yohana agreed to rent a tiny four-room cottage for Rp 3 million (US$ 300) a year. That was three years ago. Numbers fluctuate – but currently 13 men are using the facility. The experiment is now established and appears to be accepted.
At dawn mattresses are rolled up and the house becomes a small food factory. Dough is turned into durian and orange-flavored noodles using fresh fruit.
Cooked meals are delivered to a local school and other bulk buyers. About ten kilograms of noodles are sold most days under the brand Mie Otaki, a boil-down of the words organik tanpa kimia (organic without chemicals).
“Citizens don’t want to know about prisoners and have fixed opinions,” Andreas said. “They change their minds once I take them inside jails. The churches could do a lot more to help.”
Yohanes Raharjo, 46, (right) used to be showroom motorcycle salesman before he took some of his employer’s cash. After a year inside he re-entered the world with little chance of picking up his old career.
Andreas taught him noodle-making, which he now does with easy skill hunched over an electric rolling and cutting machine, training others so they can find work.
Apart from his reintegration program, Andreas is also campaigning to save convicted murderers Ruben Sombo, 72, and his son Markus, 40, from firing squads. The chaplain opposes capital punishment and believes the men are innocent.
“Many ministers are good people preaching to good people – that’s easy,” he said. “Going from bad to good – that’s hard.”
(First published in The Sunday Post 28 July 2013)