Lending your ears to prisoners

By Audrey SomnardLex Kleren Switch to French for original article

Serving a sentence means entering a parallel world, becoming a social outcast. A non-profit is trying to bring humanity back to the prison. Volunteers listen to prisoners, who become full-fledged people again. We went to meet these visitors, and hear their views.

There is only one closed penitentiary centre in Luxembourg, in Schrassig. The name is familiar to every Luxembourger, but it is very easy to never actually see it. In the middle of nowhere, only served by a bus line that runs once an hour, the prison world is carefully kept away from society. However, a few dozen volunteers offer their free time to visit the detainees and provide a listening ear and comfort. "I wanted to do volunteer work, which I had already done with refugees and the homeless. But here it's different because it's about helping people who are excluded from society, who are alone and on their own, who need support", says Jean-Marc Schoorman, who has been a prison visitor for about five years with the Association luxembourgeoise des visiteurs de prison (ALVP, Luxembourg Association of Prison Visitors).

Jean-Marc Schoorman joined the association five years ago, so he was familiar with the ALVP's values from the start: no judgement, no proselytising. After several months of attending the association's meetings, Jean-Marc was ready for the two interviews with the board. Necessary precautions according to the visitor. "This allows us to assess motivations because not everyone is cut out for this. The prison world is very cold, very austere, there are a lot of rules to respect, you have to know that." On the other hand, the prisoners do not always understand the neutral role that the visitor must have: "We get a lot of requests, they initially think they can get something out of us, but that is not our role. I try to be an active listener."

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