Ex-prisoners deserve a second chance

06th October 2016
Social Beat


By Keletso Thobega -

I nearly fell off my seat when I heard that more than 400 prisoners were remitted by President Ian Khama. I did not see that one coming.

The Minister considered recommendations made to him and then submitted them to the President. Apparently this remission applied to those who had been sentenced for lesser crimes and mostly first time offenders and extra mural offenders. On the surface, it seems like a noble act. After all, these individuals will get out of prison at some point anyways.

Besides, we are a nation that cements itself on Christian and traditional Setswana values, both which preach the importance of love for mankind, forgiveness and peace. Human beings make mistakes and some people do stupid things particularly when they are young. They need to be shown the folly of their deeds and to be empowered to turn over a new leaf.

Forgiveness is an essential part of human life. We cannot hold on to the wrongs that people do; it is better to let things go.  Even the Bible in Luke 23:34 reads, ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ The thing is that some people tend to think that they are smart, while in fact they are stupid. It is often said that, Botlhale bo ja mongajone, meaning people’s deeds often catch up with them.

I do not necessarily sympathise with criminals and offenders, but I believe that everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt because we all make poor decisions at some point. A lot of the time, when someone breaks the law it is not necessarily their need but a low self-esteem that drives them to. There is no person in this world as dangerous as one with a low self-esteem.

When a person has a low self-esteem, he is prone to making poor choices and taking unhealthy risk, because he lacks sense of purpose, identity and value. He sub-consciously doesn’t think is good enough. A lot of the time, people who drink too much, take narcotics and drugs, habitually break the law and rules, hurt, offend or violate others etc, have low self-esteem.

A normal person with a healthy self-esteem will think about the repercussions of his acts and have the ability to think and reason because his actions are guided by values and principles. We must appreciate the fact that the prison and rehabilitation system is more than just punishing, but trying to rebuild the individual. This incorporates life skills such as self-awareness, developing healthy self-esteem, interpersonal skills, reasonable thinking capacity, decision making and so forth.

The whole idea is to ensure the person is wholesome and can exist with other people. There are many individuals who have committed crimes and other offences, served time and turned over a new leaf.

Yet, there are others who do not change because they simply do not want to change. At the end of the day, you as a person make a decision about the kind of person you want to be. While some crimes and offences are situational or circumstantial, others are preempted. Some criminals and law breakers are psychopaths, and these are the hardened criminals who will never change. Yes, there are people who will never change no matter what, o tsetswe; le fa o mo leba jaana o a bona gore owaai, phokoje ga nke e latlha mosesele.

Forgiveness does not mean that we should be naïve and stupid. Forgiving someone does not mean that you are obliged to restore trust or communication channels with him. People have to prove that they have changed; it is not something you can pay lip service to.

Furthermore, former inmates must be integrated into society in a procedural manner, which includes their victims, families and friends. No man is an island; this person is going to exist in a community so he/she should exhibit socially conscious behaviour. As a society, we are not equipped to deal with former prisoners, and that is why most of them suffer stigma and isolation when they come out of prison; they are tarnished as criminals as a result of ignorance and fear.
Yet, as much as these men and women deserve a second chance, an opportunity to prove that they have learnt a lesson and will be responsible individuals, that doesn’t mean that I will not be double checking my doors and looking behind my back when I walk down the street.

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