Light Through The Bars

Father Babychan Arackathara
SA nonfiction
March 2019


“Lock them up and throw away the key!” is a cry we hear often in South Africa today. But this simplistic solution to crime simply isn’t working.
As Father Babychan Arackathara, a Catholic chaplain to some of the Western Cape’s most notorious prisons, shows in this compassionate reflection on his work, even criminals have stories, and crime invariably has roots. He listens to those stories and untangles those roots on our behalf, sharing insights into the
brokenness of our society and communities – and offering real, workable suggestions for fixing them.
Can we move to the ideal of hating the crime, but loving the criminal?
What must we do to see that offenders are themselves victims and to engage them constructively?
How do we break the cycles of addiction, trauma and crime to reach for reconciliation and transformation?


Father Babychan Arackathara has been working as a chaplain in Southern African prisons, mostly in the Western Cape, for 20 years. He represents Southern Africa at the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care (ICCPPC), an NGO recognised by the UN and a global Catholic chaplains’ movement which promotes Mandela Rules and human rights inside prisons. He has a remarkable track record of restorative justice and reintegration interventions in our correctional centres, which have brought about healing among offenders, victims and their families. He has trained and empowered prison chaplains and restorative justice facilitators across the African continent.
Light Through The Bars has been written under the guidance of veteran restorative justice writer David Le Page and renowned South African author and editor Helen Moffett.


Light Through the Bars is a reminder of how much more we can – and should – do to create a caring, just society.”
– Trevor Manuel

“[Light Through the Bars] should shock and unsettle the conscience of every christian and every government department tied up with prisons, prisoners and overcrowded facilities which, in many cases, breed even more dangerous criminals. The book offers a depth of understanding, invaluable insights, human stories that tear at the heart with such a fresh breath of compassion and christlike love. Fr Babychan has, over twenty years, studied, listened, observed and probed the plight of [South African] prisoners and now pleads for a better understanding in treating the problem. I strongly urge you to read this book. It will open your eyes and your heart."
– Fr Ralph de Hahn, veteran priest and poet

“Light Through The Bars is a well-considered book, devoid of any sensationalism. The book should be required reading for NGOs involved in crime prevention and rehabilitation and for members of the justice department and correctional services."
– Brian Joss, The Gremlin

Understanding And Rethinking South Africa’s Prisons