Gabriel Mouesca, manager of the Emmaus Baudonne farm
The Emmaus Baudonne farm is first and foremost an organisation that upholds the values of the Emmaus movement and is part of its long history of solidarity and struggle.
The Emmaus Baudonne farm is the first farm to welcome female prisoners subject to an adjustment of their sentence (external detention) in France. In 2021, it received approval to accommodate seven female prisoners, and from 2022, it will receive twelve women who will live and work at the farm.
These female residents are paid a wage. They obtain a 26 hour/week contract, paid at the minimum wage, as ‘market gardeners’. They enjoy all the rights recognised by labour law. For many of them, it’s the first time in their lives that they’ve been granted the status of ‘employee’ and their dignity as workers is fully recognised and guaranteed.
Their core business is organic market gardening. This work is an ideal way to find a new approach to life, restoring their confidence after years spent in a mortifying place like prison. It goes without saying how beneficial it is for people to work the land. However, it is even more beneficial for those who have only experienced violence, misery and rejection for a significant part of their lives (or indeed their entire lives, in some cases). This is the case for the women that we welcome at the Emmaus Baudonne farm.
I regularly have the good fortune and privilege of seeing the proud looks and bright smiles of these women filling the crates with vegetables – the very same vegetables they planted in the soil to germinate and then tended as they grew until they were ready to be picked and sold. It is also a source of pride for them when they meet customers at the market. Customers who ask for news on the residents and the farm on a weekly basis.
The farm is part of the process of ecological transition. We produce organic vegetables, we eat vegetarian meals for lunch every day, and on a daily basis we try to keep in mind the “good practices” that respect the balance needed to sustain life, ensuring (thanks to the commitment of each and every one of us) that our shared home, our Earth, survives.
It has now been a year since we welcomed the first resident and this way of working is taking effect. The residents are becoming more empowered every day. The silence or rage that some of them legitimately displayed on their arrival at the farm has gradually given way to joy and sisterhood.
The Emmaus Baudonne farm is a place of life. An “anti-prison”. Our core wish is for each resident, each employee, each volunteer, to contribute to creating a place where sisterhood/fraternity is at the heart of the project.
The status of female workers and access to labour law are major elements of our project. Because we believe that work, and its consequences on every individual’s life, is one of the conditions for dignity in everyday life. But beyond these realities, we consider that the fundamental aspect that guides our daily activities is the will to attain recognition of their dignity as women and human beings.
This is not a mere reminder, or even less a figure of speech. Indeed, the women we welcome have all told us about times in their lives in which their dignity as women, as human beings, was flouted and trampled on. The suffering caused is immeasurable and has resulted in wounds that, for some, will never heal.
Finally, it is important to remember that we are not in the business of helping the integration or reintegration of these women who have been in prison. Our aim is to empower these women, to enable them to decide their own fate. For some of them, this goal is like climbing the Himalayas. Yet the entire support team at the farm is committed to this goal on a daily basis with humility and determination.
The Emmaus Baudonne farm is therefore making a modest contribution to continuing the work begun by Abbé Pierre, Georges Legay and Lucie Coutaz over 70 years ago.
The struggle continues!