Hotline Documentary: Ex-convict Alhassan Outtara makes strides

Determined to make it without nothing that sums up the story of Alhassan Outtara the talented artist whose father caused his arrest and incarceration last year following an accusation that he had threatened him with death.

Alhassan however got his freedom following a Joy News report on his plight at the Sunyani Central prisons.

While serving his two year jail term, Alhassan kept developing his skills as an artist and a painter, with the help of prison officers.

Now, Alhassan is back in village making huge impact with his painting and arts work.

Seth Kwame Boateng’s whose story on Alhassan Outarra led to his release paid a visit to Alhassan to find out how life has been seven months after his release and tells his story in this report.

I met 26 years old talented artist, Alhassan Outtara in November 2014 at the Sunyani Central prisons. He was serving a two year jail term for committing no crime.

The irony however is that his biological father caused his arrest and subsequent incarceration. Alhassan’s father abandoned him when he was a child.

His father did not want anything do with him. The 14-year-old’s crime for going to prison was that he had pursued his father to help him set up an art studio. His journey to the prisons started from here.

“My father called me two weeks later to come for the money he promised. I got there and he asked me to wait as he goes to bring the money. To my surprise, he returned with two police officers who told me they had come to arrest me for threatening to kill my father. God is my witness, I never said anything like that’’

No one ever taught him how to draw and paint but his art work has a professional touch. Even in the prison, Alhassan did many paintings, all telling stories of his life struggles.

“I did this drawing to tell the story of how some parents maltreat their children. They must rather love them. The woman in this picture represents my step-mother and how she maltreated me simply because I was not her biological son”

Shortly after JoyNews aired Alhassan’s story, close to ten lawyers came together and filed an appeal on his behalf. His case was recalled and the judge ruled that Alhassan was wrongfully incarcerated so he was freed.

Alhassan has gone back to Sampa, a town in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana where he comes from. About eight months after his release, I set off to look for him.

Sampa is about three hours’ drive from the Brong Ahafo regional capital, Sunyani. We are not familiar with the road leading to Sampa so we often stop and ask for directions.

Alhassan appears to be a local celebrity in this town. It appears people in this town know his daily routine well. I am directed to where he would be at this time of the day. Immediately Alhassan sees me, he jumps off the back the motor bike he was on and runs to hug me.

He’s excited but also surprised at the visit.

Alhassan appears healthier than I found him in the prison. All the skin rashes he bore while in the prison have healed.

The heat and the congestion in the cell he slept in the Sunyani prisons was the result of his skin infection. There are still hundreds of people in this prison seriously battling some of these deadly skin diseases. Alhassan wears a green polo shirt over a pair of blue jeans as he remembers his journey to freedom.

“After airing the story you did on me while I was in prison, some lawyers came together and filed an appeal for me. They told me they had seen my story on Joy News. They realized I needed help. And at the court they made a case out of the story they saw on Joy News. The judge really understood my story through that news report and freed me”

After the harsh prison life, Alhassan is back in the groove drawing and painting. He has refused to be dormant since his return from the prison so he takes me to a drinking spot he is painting.

Before his incarceration, Alhassan used to paint and design this drinking spot.

“The owner of this spot waited for me to return from the prison to do the painting and designing for him. With Christmas approaching, he wants a beautiful artistic work on the walls of the spot to attract customers. I may also get some pocket money through this. He wanted me to also use this to announce my return”

For now, Alhassan does not charge for any of his works. All he needs is for you to provide the paints and tools need to execute with a professional touch.

From North to South, East and West of the Kookoa township, his art work is conspicuous everywhere. From churches to schools to the Police station, Alhassan has something to show to prove that with a little financial support he can do great things. At the Kookoa police station, the Pentecost church, cold stores, some private schools, Alhassan’s paintings and art work are on all of them.

“ Alhassan has took me to the Kokoaa police station and show us the facelift he has given to the place. The Chief of Kokoaa called on him upon his return to do all the sign writings on the police and it looks really good…he leads us to the church of Pentecost where he painted the entire church building, decorated the interior and also designed the Pentecost church logo and all other sign writings

In one of the private schools here in Kokoaa. Prince of Peace International School, Alhassan approached the school authorities to give him the chance to paint and do some drawings on the school walls. He was given the all clear and he started. His aim is to use his art to woo children to school.

“I needed to do something to help the children in this village but I have no money so I had to do this drawing to beautify this school and make the children happy. You see, I have not even finished the drawings but my information is that more children are eager to come to this school”

Assistant Headmaster of the School, Daniel Twum confirms truant pupils are all coming back because of that little touch Alhassan gave the school walls.

“This painting has really helped the school. It is attractive and it is wooing more children to this school”

Now we are back at the drinking spot where Alhassan was painting and designing. He needs to continue his job for the day. Remember, nobody taught him how to do this; he says it is a gift from God and that makes him happy. It is the reason even in prison, he kept drawing to sustain his joy. Alhassan tells me about the rousing welcome he received from his family the first day he returned from prison.

“My mother was really excited to see me. She hugged me and quickly prepared chicken soup for me. Some people in this village were shocked to see me. They thought I had escaped from prison. What however convinced them was that many said they saw on Joynews that I had been freed”

Before his incarceration, as the first born, he was the breadwinner for his family – a sick mother and three siblings. They depended on him for almost everything so his incarceration was a big blow to especially his mother, Fati Outarra.

“I was so sad and did not know what to do. He was my first child and he was taking care of the home. He would work and put food on the table. Life was really tough for me when he was incarcerated”

Alhassan’s 24 year old younger brother, Bema Outarra says life became unbearable for them in the absence of his brother. He had to drop out of school to enable him work and earn something to take care of his mother and his siblings.

With no money to assemble a team of lawyers to file an appeal for her son, Madam Fati Outarra says all she could do daily was to just pray to God to send helpers to get her son out. Her prayers were answered a few months later.

Alhassan’s younger brother Bema Outarra is bent on taking after his brother as an artist so he moves with him everywhere he goes.

“I have decided to be with him everywhere he goes. I am learning how to do the painting and the drawing. I have learnt how to hold the brush and all that; and I am enjoying it. I think I am learning faster than I could imagine”

Alhassan has resumed his former position as the breadwinner of his family. But with no sustainable job or capital to set up his art studio, Alhassan has ventured into farming as well. He agrees to take me there.

The farm is quite a distance from his home. We walk through some bushes through to other farms to finally get to his yam farm.

“This is what I have decided to do to help my family since I don’t have money to buy them food. Because of the problem I had with my father, I don’t even have a land here so I am farming on somebody’s land. At least this can help us in a way”

Kokoa and the rest of Sampa is a cashew growing area. Cashew has a high demand. Alhassan and his brother have decided to go into that as well.

“Cashew farming is really lucrative in this town. One kilogram of cashew is sold at 4 cedis. My family will be better off if we are able to also grow cashew. I have strength now to do that so I have contacted someone who has agreed that we do it together and share”

Though he loves and enjoys his skill as a talented artist, Alhassan still has dreams of going back to school. He needs the school knowledge to make him a better artist.

“Yes God has given me this talent but I also think I need the school knowledge to help shape what I already know. I really want to go far with my art work so I need the school”

Alhassan believes he can realize this dream if he is able to get just one thousand cedis as business capital. He can put together a shop, buy his own paints and other materials and charge a fee for his work. This will enable him earn and save and go back to school.

“I will get myself a kiosk so that I can easily be located anytime somebody needs me. I will use the rest of the money to buy some of the paints and start my business”

Alhassan was imprisoned but he did not allow that to kill his talent. He kept honing his skill even while in the prison. Alhassan says he’s forgiven his father who caused his arrest, but the healing process will take time. Alhassan believes with hard work, determination, diligence and humility and will reap back all that he lost because of his incarceration.

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