Claaaang! The last time he will hear the prison doors shut. Now what? His body begins to feel the urge, the craving… for, his gang, his drugs. A constant cycle of haze, hood and housebreakings. It won’t be long now. His guys are waiting. He is ready. As he swaggers away, he thinks: old life/new life here I come… Thulani is lost in the never-ending cycle of fast-living, dying a little more each day.
While Thulani was a member of the 26s (the robbery gang), he created for himself a kind of ‘respect’ that only a toxic dominant masculinity can bring about, Sizo took a different route. Both were moved from medium B section, to pre-release C section in the same week. While Thulani made contact with the guys and prepared for the big homecoming, Sizo took stock of his life. He joined the South Africa YMCA life skills and personal development course.
The course itself challenges the pre-release inmates to prepare themselves to live a more positive life – one of dignity and peace. The inmates take from it what they are prepared to put into it. It was during the course that the SAYMCA assisted in the reintegration process for Sizo. As the area he comes from is quiet and peaceful, the elders spoke out against him coming back until he had proved himself. This is the reality that young offenders face on returning with a changed mindset. They may believe they have changed – and indeed they may very well have, as our experience bears out – but the community or family has no proof of this and may not be prepared to take a chance. Of course, this is not always the case, and many family and community reintegrations are successful. At least Sizo’s uncle is happy to take him in, and has even lined up a job interview at a local shop.
The rate of recidivism for those who go on the SAYMCA courses and through the processes is nil. Yes. That is truly amazing. So for Sizo, he has the opportunity to start a new chapter. Some ex-offenders need much counselling and group engagement with peers. Time will tell for Sizo but he has that option. Some ex-offenders go on to becoming role models and peer mentors in the Youth Justice programme that the SAYMCA runs. Perhaps that lies ahead for Sizo.
What is certain is that there are options and opportunities for a different way of living. There is hope. Hope for whatever Sizo chooses to focus on. This is what makes the work we do so fulfilling. It is because of all the Sizo’s, that the SAYMCA volunteers and staff work against the odds in our crime-ridden country. Keep hope alive!
By Gil Harper, AAYMCA
The Youth Justice programme is an initiative in South Africa and Togo, which is in partnership with the Sweden YMCA/YWCA and is supported by SMC, Sweden. It reaches out to those ‘at risk’ (gangs, youth in risky areas, vulnerable youth, drug addicted youth or those in that environment), those in places of safety and institutions of correctional services, as well as those in the reintegration phase. Involving life skills, personal development, victim-offender dialogues, reintegration and awareness-raising, the programme has a huge success rate.