A Freed Juvenile Prisoner’s To-Do List

August 11, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

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By

James Ouma

A freed juvenile prisoner’s to-do list depends on the response and reaction he gets from those closest to him, such as his mother, father, siblings and the surrounding community.

If the response is out of love, acceptance, forgiveness and being given a second chance, a freed juvenile prisoner will seek reconciliation with himself and those he has wronged through violence and crime, taking responsibility for himself and wanting to embrace a crime free life.

But if the reaction is out of hostilitiy, suspicion and fear, a freed juvenile prisoner’s to-do list will include seeking revenge against those who took him to prison, joining a gang he heard about while in prison and gradually becoming a hardcore criminal who ends up in prison, again and again.

What is the difference betweeen response and reaction, you may ask. Response is positive while reaction is negative. The way we collectively treat those who are in prison and ex-prisoners is a violation of human rights. The families of the boys I work with seldom visit. And when they do, they don’t come in person. They send someone with a roll of toilet paper, a 50-ml Colgate toothpaste, a toothbrush and a piece of soap that has been cut apart using the tip of a kitchen spoon.

And when the boys leave prison, they are given a piece of soap, towel and a clean set of clothes so they can take a shower before they are allowed to enter the house. The clothes they come back with are either given away as donations or they are thrown in the rubbish. Then the boy is given a one-way bus ticket to the village.

When Rickie, 17 years old, came back from prison, he found a welcoming feast. After briefly celebrating his freedom with his family, Rickie and I discussed his way forward over the phone. He also asked for permission to go out for a while. A few minutes past midnight, I got a call from Rickie’s mom informing me that Rickie had not come back home.

“James,” she said, “You know how bad Kayole is right now with all these gangs roaming about? What if Rickie has rejoined the gang he used to hang out with?” she asked.

“Just stay calm,” I replied while mouthing a silent prayer. “When Rickie comes back serve him food and tell him that you love him.”

“Okay,” she said. “I will call you the moment he comes back so you can talk to him.”

Rickie came back home at 2 am, rowdy and totally drunk. As his mom warmed his food, we had a brief chat and had a short prayer concerning Rickie over the phone. Fast forward to the present, Rickie went back to school and did his O-level exams and though he is still struggling, he has embraced a crime free life.

 

Three things that transform a released juvenile prisoner’s to-do list

  • Acceptance

  • Forgiveness

  • Second chances

 

 

 

 

 

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James Ouma

James Ouma is a freelance writer and founder of Lifesong Kenya, in addition to being a children’s TV producer at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

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