Promise, aged 13, will be released from juvenile prison next week. We all screamed in joy when the news of his upcoming release was broken to us last Friday. Through Lifesong Kenya’s weekly mentoring program, Promise was able to reconcile with himself, his family and the people he wronged through crime.
Much as Promise wants, and strongly desires to turn his life around it is not going to be easy. Like many prisoners before him, Promise is going to struggle in the outside world. This is not something new. Research has shown that prisoners often find it difficult to find their feet in the community after their release from prison.
“I have learned a lot of things through Lifesong Kenya and would like to continue the mentoring program,” Promise said, a rare smile splitting his face into two. “I am going to use the skills I have acquired to earn a honest living and stop stealing people’s things.”
Even as we promised to continue making ourselves available, we doubted whether our limited resources and funding will enable us to do so. Besides, Promise already has numerous challenges that he is going to contend with. For instance, his father didn’t visit him during the six months that he was behind bars. Neither did his mother.
Were it not a pair of floaters that two ladies donated after reading my Facebook post, Promise would have left the prison with the torn pair of slippers he had come with. In fact, we first saw him smile during the time he was fitting the floaters on his feet. And now, he is just about to exit the prison and experience what it means staying on the slippery course where scarcity abounds.
Staying on the slippery course where scarcity abounds
There are several reasons why juvenile prisoners find it difficult to successfully reintegrate into the community. This is not a challenge that is unique to juvenile prisoners only. It cuts across all generations of prisoners. The challenges that ex prisoners face include:-
- lack of acceptance from family members, schools and the community at large
- inadequate programs that empower the boys to handle stigma before they exit prison
- lack of support systems that ensures ex prisoners reintegrate into the community
- leaving prison without skills that can enable prisoners to secure jobs or capital to start a business
“Do you have a phone number where I can reach you after you leave prison?” I asked Promise, reaching for my notebook.
“No, I don’t,” he replied.
“So, how will I reach you?” I asked.
“Just tell me your number,” he said.
“Get a pen and paper then,” I said.
“He doesn’t need them,” the 20 boys we work with replied in unison.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I will memorize the phone number without writing it down,” he said.
Well, I trusted him to commit the phone number to memory and look forward to hearing from him. Promise and other boys are brilliant and exceptional human beings who have found themselves in a difficult situation. They are intuitive, wise beyond their age and compassionate. When we trust and offer them equal opportunities to grow and thrive, it enables them to successfully reintegrate into the community.
You don’t have to wait until they exit prison. Start by visiting prison to encourage and embrace those behind bars. You can also support organizations that work with prisoners such as Lifesong Kenya. By doing so, you will end up impacting hundreds of boys that Lifesong Kenya seeks to empower in prison. I look forward to hearing from you.
“These boys are yearning to become men of courage, character and conscience. I can feel it deep inside my bones. Let’s give them a reason to keep believing in themselves and humanity,”
– Patty Liston, Standing With Boys