Joymir was imprisoned in the Papuda Penitentiary Complex, one of the largest in Brazil. There, he received a message of hope that changed his story. [Photo Courtesy of the South American Division]

General Conference

Ex-inmate Experiences Changed Life, Returns to Prison to Help Other Inmates

Joymir Guimarães coordinates an initiative that seeks to resocialize inmates through a biblical reading and reflection project.

Brazil | Rafael Brondani

In two years, the number of people incarcerated in Brazil reached 820,000, whether serving in closed, semi-open, or shelter facilities. Prisons are currently overcrowded, with 50 percent more than their ideal capacity, according to data from the Prison Monitoring Bank and the National Justice Council (CNJ).

To try to change this reality, religion is used to work on the process of resocialization of detainees and seeks to help reduce recidivism rates. In addition, it predicts better behavior of prisoners.

The administrative headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for Brasília and its surroundings has offered assistance to the public authorities in order to achieve these goals. Therefore, it maintains the Prison Ministry, which serves more than 16,000 inmates in the region.

Joymir Guimarães is the coordinator of the initiative. He also had his life transformed by similar actions carried out by the project he coordinates. Imprisoned in the Papuda Penitentiary Complex, one of the largest in Brazil, he had his life transformed while still in prison.

Guimarães didn't want to keep that hope to himself. Years later, he returned to the compound and was the first ex-convict authorized to bring relief to inmates through biblical messages. “Spirituality is of great importance in the reintegration and resocialization of those who leave prison. I was there, tossed around, forgotten. The church believed in me, and this was extremely important for my resocialization. Now I'm back to help others,” he says excitedly.

The coordinator explains that the ministry helps in the recovery of drug addicts, gives support to family members, and encourages culture through an action entitled “Página Virada”.

The Prison Ministry has transformed the lives of hundreds of prisoners. [Photo Courtesy of the South American Division]

The Prison Ministry has transformed the lives of hundreds of prisoners. [Photo Courtesy of the South American Division]

Page Turned

In partnership with the Public Ministry of Labor and the Department of Justice and Citizenship of the Federal District, the Prison Ministry proposes to encourage inmates to read. In return, they have the possibility to reduce the penalty. The meetings take place every Monday and Thursday, when a conversation circle is held regarding the week's reading.

For each book read within 30 days, prisoners write an essay and must obtain a minimum score of six points. Once the minimum amount is reached, the sentence is reduced by four days. Per year, the maximum possible reduction of one’s sentence through reading is equivalent to 48 days. At the end of the project, evaluations of the essays produced are carried out, and the three best ones are awarded.

“We are very happy with the result. What's interesting, too, is how we apply the stories in the book to our daily lives. We talk about how to get out of the life of crime, what we should do, what are the paths, what are the guidelines. The detainees begin to have a new vision of life and comment that they had never thought of it this way,” explains Guimarães.

Dozens of volunteers participate in the actions, such as pastors, chaplains, lawyers, and psychologists. Each professional helps in a specific way. During the visits, the volunteers talk to the detainees and use stories from the Bible to provide moments of reflection and change in their lives.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s news site