Our REAM Program kicked off this week in earnest. We had missed going to prison and dearly missed meeting our exceptional young men. Our long absence was as a result of taking part in our maiden 500 KM bike ride from Nairobi to Migori Town. Being our first long ride, I took close to two months to recover. That is how serious and tough things were.
During the long ride something magical happened. I thought about the Biblical prodigal son and how being forgiven restored him to his family. At Lifesong Kenya, we recognize that our exceptional young men have committed crimes that have harmed and damaged relationships.
We have witnessed, first hand, the devastation that has been visited on families – most of them single moms and their children. Not only do our exceptional young men face stigma and rejection, their families go through the same discriminations.
This reminds me about Bernardo Silva whose journey to full reentry is still ongoing. After experimenting with bhang while he was in high school, his life has never been the same again. Getting arrested and spending time in juvenile prison made things worse.
Towards the end of last year, the Lifesong Kenya team accompanied him to his former school. No sooner had we mentioned his name than the smiles on the faces of the teaching staff got wiped off. From the moment we mentioned Bernardo Silva’s name to the time we left, tension filled the air and hung onto our hair like an unwelcomed fog.
“I assure you that Bernardo Silva is a transformed young man,” I said. “All he needs is a second chance in life.”
“I don’t think you understand us,” the Ruthimitu Secondary School head teacher said. “He is not welcome back because he ruined our school’s reputation.”
The key to Lifesong Kenya’s success this year
As we left the school, I felt the eyes of the teachers drill a hole at the back of my head. We were devastated and didn’t know how or where to start. How were we going to explain to Bernardo Silva that all our assurance that all was going to be well were mere words? What about his grieving mom and confused young siblings?
We drove off in silence.
During our cycling, I thought a lot about Bernardo Silva and the other three boys whose families we had met. There was Murume who was struggling to come to terms with the fact that his parents were never going to reunite in marriage. Then there was Waylong Bulimu who had not accompanied us for the cycling even though he had trained with us.Lastly, I thought about Diamond who was still missing in action.
I felt partly to be blamed for not trying harder.
Granted, Lifesong Kenya was operating and has continued to operate on a slim budget. Were it not for the generous support that Lifesong Kenya gets from Delia Browne and John Wollwerth I don’t whether we would have come this far. My wife and I appreciate.
When I was starting out in 2012, I didn’t reckon that it was going to be difficult finding support. Back then, I thought all I needed was bus fare to go to prison and visit families of the boys. I have come to discover that prison work involves much more than having bus fare. It is also way beyond asking a volunteer to show passion.
It is a full time job.
Introduction of restorative justice
In my interactions with friends and family members concerning prison work has revealed the fear that people have. Most people seldom want to be associated with prisoners, until their own family member goes to prison. I recognize the fact that crime hurts people.
This forces offenders to ‘serve time’ for the second time or for lifetime. I strongly believe that they need to be given a second chance to atone for what they have done. This being so, the community should help them mend their broken lives, recover missed opportunities and stop alienating them. This can happen when we involve wrong doers, those they have hurt and the community at large in our healing and reconciliation process.
We believe that repairing broken relationships is the best way to meet the needs of boys exiting prison. This has numerous benefits to both the offender and the aggrieved party. Enhancing healthy relationships between offenders, families and victims of crime helps in rehabilitation process of offenders.
It is three days since we introduced the concept of restorative justice. I am yet to call parents and the people our exceptional young men wronged. I have been unable to call due to lack of phone credit. However, I am confident that the restorative justice model holds the key to Lifesong Kenya’s success this year.
Our program will focus on bringing offenders, their families and victims of crime together. We believe that providing an avenue for constructive dialogue will reap untold possibilities.
We believe that this model will provide a forum for the following: –
- Offenders making amends for their mistakes and offense
- Bringing closure to matters that may derail reintegration of offenders exiting prison
- Mending ruined relationships between the families of offenders and the offended
- Enabling our exceptional young men to exit prison knowing they are accepted back in the community
Watch out for my follow-up blog where I will share how our exceptional young men reacted to our new concept. Feel free to contact us for more information about our work and continue supporting us.