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Since beginning its work in Addis Alem around 12 years ago, the chaplaincy has rendered significant service to the prison’s population of 1,000, and not only in terms of healthcare.

“We place a huge focus on education and skills training,” says Mr. Tulu. “We came to an agreement with the government that if we built a school in the prison, they would provide teachers.”

Skills programs, such as woodworking, construction, sewing and weaving, have become popular among inmates.

Mr. Tulu swears by the power of education for enriching prisoners’ lives, both in the short and long term. In the present, he says, it gives a sense of purpose and pride, boosting morale and reinforcing positivity — crucial weapons against the depression and despair that very easily envelop the mind facing incarceration. In the future, it offers a new means to provide for themselves and their families once released, improving the quality of many lives and reducing the risk of recidivism.

“Since I started to sew seven years ago, I have gotten to the point where I can make a living from that one skill alone,” says Gadesa Bayesa, 33, sitting behind his machine, surrounded by garments both finished and in progress.

“Now I can make an entire suit from start to finish in just one day.”

A small transistor radio, suspended among the garments around him, blasts out tinny pop tunes that help bring a rhythm to his work and to that of the dozens of other men seated at their respective sewing machines or looms in the large hall.

Mr. Bayesa has several clients from outside the prison who order tailoring and sewing work from him. When he started, he had only a needle and thread. But when his family saw potential for him in his newly acquired skill, they bought him a sewing machine. This changed the game, he says, and put him on the road to becoming a professional tailor after release.

On Thursdays, the chaplaincy team drives to Shano Prison, 50 miles northeast of Addis Ababa. At this site, too, the team’s efforts enhance prisoners’ post-release prospects — and help to make enduring the present more tolerable.

Shano, which houses 750 inmates, has a similar internal structure to Addis Alem.

A group of more than a dozen women live in a separate compound, in which a handful of toddlers may be seen running around. The children of incarcerated women are allowed to live with their mothers until they reach the age of 18 months, at which time they are transferred to the care of family members. In designated areas for cooking, prisoners tend their own fires, fanning and stoking to increase the heat on their pots.

Around the corner from the cooking area, a group of men participate in a construction workshop. Because of the nature of the work, some lessons take place indoors, while others require the open space just in front of the building, where prisoners have ample room to construct frames for houses, or lattices for mud walls.

They focus presently on a piece of lattice sitting parallel to the ground on pegs about a foot high. Its frame is crisscrossed precisely by twine, which serves as a guide as they learn to transform the frame into a structure and eventually make it the wall of a home.

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