From prisoner to sociotherapist: Sociotherapy in Rwandan prisons

12 februari 2015

Since 1995, Prison Fellowship Rwanda has been implementing programs in Rwandan prisons. The organization used the restorative justice approach in creating reconciliation and healing and reached large numbers of prisoners. In its endeavor to contribute to this process of healing and behavior change among prisoners, in 2014 the sociotherapy program was introduced in Muhanga prison. This approach was endorsed by the Rwandan prison authorities.


In August 2014, the first sociotherapy group took place in Muhanga prison and it has been well appreciated by the participants. Fifteen prisoners attended this pilot socio-group for a period of fifteen weeks. Some of the testimonies at the conviviality meeting indicated that changes have started for them.

This is one of the testimonies presented during the meeting:


Sociotherapy has really empowered me

 “My name is Marie I have suffered since my childhood. My father and mother had divorced. I grew up with my father and his second wife, but the latter mistreated me. I suffered a lot from that. When my father died I tried to join my real mother. Unfortunately, a few weeks after I had lived with her, she also died. This obliged me to return to the family of the second wife of my father. After my return, she increased her mistreatment and persecution.

I then felt forced to marry, in order to escape that situation. As a Tutsi woman I married a Hutu husband. During the genocide I was not pursued for being killed. A young Tutsi lady who was my neighbor came to me to look for protection. However, I did not hide her. Instead, I led her to a group of Interahamwe, who persecuted, raped and killed her. 

During the Gacaca court when I was interrogated, I did not tell the truth of what I had done and seen regarding genocide crimes. Nevertheless, I was imprisoned based on the accusations brought against me.

Recently, I participated in a sociotherapy group in prison. During one of the sociotherapy sessions, we discussed new rules we could implement in our lives and reflected on a cloth of two colors, black and white, presented to us by one of the sociotherapists. I personally compared that cloth with my heart, the black side of my heart signifying the truth of the genocide crime I had committed that I had hidden in my heart.


As we were about to end the socio- sessions, I realized that I would not be healed if I kept hiding that truth.

That same day, I revealed to the other group participants that I am guilty for not having hided the lady who had come to me for protection. If I had told the truth in the Gacaca court at the time, perhaps I would not have been life sentenced. 

Sociotherapy has really empowered me. I am feeling changed to the extent that I have requested the prison authorities to prepare a meeting for me with the family members of victim, the lady who was raped and died due to my intervention, so that I can confess my crime to them and beg to be pardoned by them. I would like to call upon my fellow inmates who still hide the truth about genocide crimes to be courageous and reveal that truth as it is the only way to come to personal healing and interpersonal reconciliation.”


Sociotherapy: a springboard of my healing process 

Mr. Jean also a graduated from the pilot group said that he had felt the remorse of the genocide crimes he committed. In his testimony he explained that he committed genocide crimes in different attacks.

He said that “sociotherapy was for me a springboard of my healing process”. 


Based on the experiences of the sociotherapy group, the idea was raised to train prisoners themselves to become sociotherapists.

In December 2014 8 prisoners and 2 volunteers  were  trained  together  to become sociotherapists.

The trained sociotherapists will facilitate 4 new sociotherapy groups in Muhanga prison. In the first round approximately 50 to 60 participants will participate. The targeted number of prisoners to be reached throughout the coming two years will be 288 participants in 24 socio-groups. 



Prisoners enjoyed the introduction of ST, according to them it creates an enabling space for them to go into themselves, sharing their stories, overcome isolation and start the healing journey for the enlightments of hearts and thoughts.


The chorus of their song expressing their attitude toward ST:

 “Sociotherapy you came at the time we really need you. We welcome you with our two hands, be rooted in our hearts”.


The five-day training was concluded by a closing ceremony attended by the Assistant commissioner of the Rwanda Correction Service (RCS) and the In Charge of Correction and Human Rights of Muhanga prison. In a speech he said that the trained sociotherapists in Muhanga prison will consititute a special team for the country in general. He said that sociotherapy will be beneficial for all prisoners. Those who will be released will be able to better reintegrate in their communities and even facilitate process of reconciliation. He recommended that sociotherapy should be extended to other prisons in Rwanda as it is a good tool for healing and transformation of the prison population. 


“Nowhere in the world have prisoners been trained to become sociotherapists themselves. This makes this intervention in Muhanga prison very unique, and this makes the trained prisoners pioneers.”  CBSP Program Manager


By Felix Bigabo

Field Coordinator CBSP Southern Province