By Fr. George Adimike
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s assertion in his social contract theory that man is free but everywhere in chains touches the heart of the existential struggle of liberty and its lack thereof. Coursing through the existential highways and byways challenges one with the stark reality of man’s deprived condition. This ontological indigence constraints freedom and constitutes easy allurement to, and ready alibi for the expression of his original deprivation.
This original deprivation and limitation resulting from Adamic nature atrophy man’s capacity for freedom and, as a matter of experience, confound freedom with license. Hence, liberty becomes libertine and enraptures one in a licentious drive towards inordinate satisfaction of appetites. In this archetypical condition, true freedom becomes the casualty—man though created free finds himself in chains.
The raison d’être for the chains, in other words, man’s imprisonment, goes beyond Rousseau’s political community to a more fundamental reason. Man’s original deprivation and limitation at origin modulate Rousseau’s optimism. Our basic goodness is marked by flaws that need redemption. Humanity’s fall vitiates our capacity for goodness and underpins man’s metaphysical imprisonment, which most often precedes physical incarceration. This licentiousness that results from the abuse of freedom usually vents itself in anti-social behaviour that more often lands one into physical prison.
The physical incarceration is, therefore, a symbol of invisible imprisonment from which Christ the perfect and original man redeemed us by becoming human. Thus, the true identity, dignity and freedom of man are to be found in Christ. He redeems man by his radical solidarity, thereby reconstituting his capacity for assuming dignity, greatness, pre-eminence and freedom. Being that true freedom corresponds with the truth, Christ’s humanity bespeaks man’s new-found freedom and typifies the truth of his being. Man’s imprisonment encounters total freedom in Christ. The freeman is, therefore, Maduka, who arguably spells Christ.
Since whomever the Son of man sets free enjoys true liberty (cf. John 8:36), the human person comes to his full measure in Christ as Maduka. The liberation from the metaphysical imprisonment informs his true freedom even if there are physical constraints. Hence, true freedom is primarily metaphysical. The ultimate purpose of the physical prison is to help the inmates to recover the metaphysical freedom. Unfortunately, physical prison has often lost its essential purpose as corrective that helps one to acquire this real and true liberty, which is freedom with responsibility, in other words, liberty that is rooted in the truth. Therefore, implicit in the mission of the prison system is the introduction of delinquents to Christ, who is the true man. It is supposed to fund freedom in truth realised in Christ relative to Maduka.
Maduka runs on man’s inherent and inviolable dignity on account of his unique identity relative to his vocation and destiny in God. Maduka spells this regal quality of being with its corresponding responsibility towards God, self and society as a moral agent. As such, conformity with his real identity in God is liberative of any form of imprisonment, enslavement and confinement. In other words, to be free from these shackles and chains is to appropriate and assume one’s identity and dignity. Irrespective of a wide range of perspectives in sincere efforts to offer profound solutions to man’s freedom, Christ remains the source and model of true liberty (cf John 8:36).
Without the cultivation of virtues, there cannot be a culture of freedom because true freedom is the power to choose good and avoid evil. No culture without cultivation! “There is no culture without agriculture,” says Baba Tarik Oduno. Given that our metaphysical deprivation impacts our freedom, and our sociological milieu constraints its exercise, the Prison facility provides the space and time in order to help the inmates to recover the capacity to be good moral agents. With the enablers offered by these facilities such as Chaplaincy Services, vocational skills and entrepreneurial training, basic health services, ordered use of time, environment and amenities, provision of good food, sports and overall human capital development among others, one can come out a better person living his or her freedom responsibly.
However, the failure of Nigerian Prison System to focus on its supposed core mission makes the average Nigerian Prison Facility a breeding ground for angry and broken persons, and also for anti-social, infra-human and criminal behaviours. The licentiousness is, thus, reinforced in the inmates given the bestial treatment they encounter. Fr Matthew Ndibe and I experienced personally this pitiable state of Nigerian Prisons in 2008 when we accompanied the Archbishop to the Federal Prison Onitsha. My heart and eyes tore. Father Matthew shed tears. I had never seen a thing like that in my life. Happily, the Archbishop changed the situation because he believes that Maduka.
Beyond the chains, Maduka; beyond the chains, man is pre-eminent in dignity, sacredness and honour. Maduka, man is pre-eminent despite the devil’s effort to steal his dignity and thus rob him of hope. On that account, the necessity for a holistic Prison corrective facility that is a boon and not a bane to man and his society is not lost to the Archbishop. With a perfect understanding of the import of Jesus’ sand-writing, Archbishop Val Maduka Okeke goes to Prison in search of the broken men and women because Maduka. With personal visits of at least three times a year (Christmas, Easter & his birthday), he instantiates Christ in whom man enjoys perfect freedom, embodies their hope and becomes good news to the inmates.
Precisely because there is no physical imprisonment without prior metaphysical imprisonment, he started with strengthening and renewing the spiritual and pastoral services to the inmates entrusting the task to a vibrant and dedicated young Priest and a Nun. He renovated the Chapel and built a new one for the Prison Staff and families and charged the Chaplaincy to do everything within their reach to provide life to the inmates, including organising music and sports activities. He initiated the reconstruction of the Prison Dormitories and making them habitable.
His example inspired some religious groups to come to the rescue of the Prison. He provided pipe borne water and vehicle for conveying the sick to the hospitals. He also detailed one of the Archdiocesan Lawyers and JDPC Office to offer Legal services to the inmates and through that means liberated many innocent ones. Beyond that, he gives regular food materials and other material goods to support the inmates, including Medical care at the Holy Rosary Hospital and Maternity, Waterside Onitsha.
Over and above these, he constructed a newly commissioned Vocational/Skill Acquisition Centre for the Federal Prison Onitsha for a proper integration into the society when one finishes serving the time. The list never finishes!
Fr George ADIMIKE writes from Rome.