Suicide: a permanent solution to a temporary problem, people who have been there will tell you that they did not want to die; they just wanted the pain to stop. Suicide goes often hand in hand with depression, a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as eating, working and sleeping. In our quantitative evaluation study conducted in 2016 in which 452 sociotherapy participants participated, 10.8% of the respondents stated that in the three months before they joined sociotherapy they had often thought about committing suicide and an additional 20.4% had thought about it sometimes. One of them was Marie (a borrowed name) a young girl who became unwillingly pregnant.
Story from Muhanga Prison
“When I found myself pregnant, it was very traumatizing to me. I approached my boyfriend and informed him about the pregnancy. He then rejected me. Consequently, I felt hopeless and became very fearful. I was in a permanent stage of feeling guilty and shameful, particularly towards my parents and brothers even though I had yet to inform them. In order to deal with the situation, I decided to abort secretly the child.
I took drugs and aborted without much physical harm. Still, I continued to fear that my parents and brothers would become aware of my situation. In addition, the feeling of guilt and shame were worsening instead of lessening. I decided to commit suicide and put an end to my suffering. I went in a bush near our village and drank a poisonous liquid. When I was unconscious, a man passed by and saw me. He called others to help and they brought me to the hospital. After I recovered, I was arrested and imprisoned for abortion.
In prison, my state of mind deteriorated. I felt more depressed and anxious. The thoughts of committing suicide always remained on my mind. I was no longer eating and sleeping. While others were sleeping around 2 AM, I would just circulate in the prison cell looking for a place where I could commit suicide. I intended to do it in the washrooms. I had prepared a piece of cloth to facilitate me in committing suicide. While I was in this bad situation, a sociotherapist came to invite me for sociotherapy sessions. I was reluctant and considered her invitation as a joke. Yet I decided to attend the socio-sessions that were held in the prison. During the first two sessions, I was not really moved at all. From the third session onwards though, I began to realize that the sociotherapy sessions were touching me. I was especially touched by the phase of care; it was then that I realized that I did not care about others or myself. I told myself that sociotherapy would heal me. I started to eat again, and from then on, I took care of myself. I have been able to forgive the person who made me pregnant but also myself. I overcame the feelings of fear, as I realized that I was not alone. I decided to join a group of women that are making baskets. Today I am no longer isolated and I can even sleep again. If sociotherapy had not intervened, I am sure that I would have committed suicide in the prison. Now I can even give good advices to other inmates.”
Since 1995, our implementing partner organization Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR) has been implementing programs in Rwandan prisons. In 2014 the sociotherapy program was introduced in Muhanga prison. This approach was endorsed by the Rwandan prison authorities, and will contribute to Rwanda Correctional Service mission of Correction and rehabilitation.
Picture of the training for sociotherapists in prison.
In December 2014 eight prisoners and two PFR volunteers were trained together to become sociotherapists. The trained prisoners each round facilitated 4 new sociotherapy groups in Muhanga prison.
In 2015 and 2016 a total of 24 socio-groups were facilitated in prison and 340 prisoners participated in the sociotherapy groups of which 284 participated in at least 11 out of 15 sessions. In 2017, four new groups have started in prison and they have closed their 15th session.
Participating in sociotherapy sessions has been invaluable to those people but it might also be pertinent to encourage everyone to report cases for suicidal people, as they can be a danger to themselves but also to others.