Human Interest

From prison to bakery, the reintegration of a Paraguayan woman

Noelia F. Aceituno

Asunción, May 13 (EFE).- Sabrina Oxilia, the owner of Mamá Pan bakery, didn’t mind that Erika O’Higgins was an inmate at a penitentiary center in Asunción when she hired her to work at her bakery. Erika’s opportunity to work is part of a program designed by Paraguay’s Ministry of Justice to help former inmates reintegrate into society.

“Sabrina took a chance by choosing the penitentiary inclusion program,” O’Higgins told EFE, dressed in her chef uniform while taking a short break in preparations for Mother Day’s orders, which is celebrated Saturday in Paraguay.

Three times a week, O’Higgins leaves the Hogar Nueva Oportunidad low security penitentiary for women, where she is serving a five-year sentence, to go to work at the bakery.

“Those of us who have made mistakes have served civil society with a penalty, I accepted it because I made a mistake. I think my time has come, I have gone through my sentence and I have learnt my lessons,” said O’Higgins.

Her boss Oxilia confessed she had some prejudices when it came to incorporating her into her staff, but after being encouraged by an acquaintance who had also taken part in the program, decided to break “the schemes and taboos I had in my head”.

Oxilia was looking for “a proactive person, who enjoys gastronomy and has some basic knowledge (of cooking)” and found in O’Higgins her ideal candidate.

“Once she came here, she adapted very quickly to the team. We are learning a lot,” she added.

O’Higgins gained temporary release in October 2020, when she was allowed out on weekends. She is now waiting for parole.

“I hope to be able to enjoy my freedom and fully reintegrate into society,” O’Higgins hoped.

In her plans for the “very distant future” she does not rule out a gastronomy project, a sector she is familiar with since her mother was a cook.

Mamá Pan is one of the companies that collaborate with the Directorate of Welfare and Social Reinsertion of the Ministry of Justice to reintegrate people back into society when they leave prison.

The first stage of the process happens inside the prison, with training courses, and the second sees them in a state of partial freedom that prepares them to re-enter society.

“Reinsertion becomes effective once the person leaves the penitentiary system and can get in contact with society again. That is why society has to be encouraged to give this opportunity and open its doors to a person who has made a mistake, paid a penalty for it and wants to move forward,” director of Welfare and Social Reinsertion, Vanesa Napout told EFE. EFE


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