Profoundly religious, Portugal’s new president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa left his studies of the 2016 State Budget to one side over the weekend to visit Tires female prison in Cascais where 400 women live with their children.
The idea, he explained, was to show spiritual solidarity at a time of religious celebration.
“We should show solidarity all year round,” he said as he was received by dozens of clapping inmates in the prison refectory. “But there are moments of the year like Christmas and Easter in which we traditionally express this solidarity more.”
And always ready with a bit of banter, Marcelo added: “We cannot bring (sugared) almonds for all of you. We don’t want you all to get fat. So we brought ourselves and the expression of our spiritual solidarity.”
Accompanied on the visit by Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem, Marcelo was given a guided tour of the Arraiolos rugs that inmates make – and stressed that their situation now does not have to mark the rest of their lives.
“No one is condemned to a determined life forever,” he said, as people “can and should remake it over the years and decades of existence.”
“This is what we are hoping happens with you,” he told the women. “We hope you have a future that shows a life remade in a climate of solidarity.”
It was Marcelo’s own idea to visit the prison, Francisca Van Dunem told reporters. The justice ministry was only too happy to go along with it, she explained as rehabilitation is an “essential” commitment of the country’s prison authorities.
The hour-and-a-half visit was very much a personal one, with journalists kept from asking inmates too many questions – and afterwards, it was “back to the budget” on which Marcelo was due to address the nation on Monday evening.
According to news reports, he is expected to rubber-stamp the document that has seen Brussels’ finance chiefs sounding all sorts of warnings, but not without some well-worded “alerts”.
Caption: President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa during his visit to Tires female prison where 400 women live with their children
Photo: JOSÉ SENA GOULÃO/LUSA