Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Breaking the cycle

Last month, 20 prisoners from Pollsmoor graduated from Network’s job readiness programme, equipping them with the skills they’ll need to find employment after their release. In this post, Deborah Cuthbert takes a  look at some of the obstacles ex-offenders face and how we can support them as a community.

On Freedom Day in March this year, the president caused quite a stir when he announced the early release of  approximately 14 651 prisoners from prisons across the country. I’m sure many a law-abiding citizens heart skipped a beat when they heard this news. But have you ever considered that the prisoners and their families are concerned about this as well?

Let’s take a look at the story of Jo*.  Jo is one of these prisoners considered for early release.  He has been socialised into the prison system where virtually all decision-making has been taken away from him. Imagine being told when you must wake up and when you must go to sleep, when you must eat and when you must exercise, when you can see your family and when you can speak to your friends.All of these decisions have been taken out of Jo’s hands.  He hasn’t had to make any decisions for himself. Instead, he’s learnt to constantly be on his guard, watching his back for attackers.

He’s looking forward to release and is determined never to end up back in prison, but before he even takes a step on ‘free’ land, he knows that the odds are stacked against him. What evidence we have shows that more than half of the people released from prison will land back there again.  So what factors have been identified that will affect Jo’s chances of success?

Once out of prison, Jo will need to very quickly re-socialise to ‘the outside world’ and the fast pace of life. He will have to make some crucial decisions right from the start. The chances are that he didn’t have the opportunity to attend any soft skill courses while incarcerated that focus on, for example, decision-making and anger management. So he will need to control his emotions and make crucial decisions with very  little guidance. (Very few ex-prisoners have access to post-release support groups to help them negotiate the challenges they will face going back into society.)

Jo, like many prisoners, doesn’t have a matric, and was unemployed when he was imprisoned, so he doesn’t have an employment record (and of course he now has a criminal record). These will all affect his chances of finding employment, and without employment he won’t be able to support himself.

Fortunately, his family has maintained contact with him throughout his prison sentence and so he has somewhere to go on his release.  Unfortunately, it’s back to Hanover Park, where his ex-colleagues from the gang he was in are keen for him to rejoin them.  And, of course, there is the presence of the rival gangs to consider.  In one way, he does have his family’s support.  However, none of them are employed and so they very quickly they start nagging him about providing for them. What’s Jo to do?

This is just a brief sketch of some of the issues faced by thousands of  ex-offenders in this country, yet even from this story it’s  easy to see why so many fall back into a life of crime so soon after release. When faced with unemployment and rejection, hopelessness and despair soon set in. And without hope, a  life of crime can often seem the only option for survival.

So what is our community doing to assist people like Jo to increase their odds of success?

On 11 May, 20 male prisoners in Pollsmoor graduated from Networks seven week job readiness programme.  Some have since been released, and will receive aftercare from Hope Prison Ministries, and assistance from Network in their search for work.  Two more job readiness courses are earmarked at Pollsmoor later this year:  one for women and another for men.

Network has identified the following ways you can assist them in helping ex-offenders get on their feet:

  • Financial support through donations (visit their website for details)
  • Donations for Network classes: computers, stationery, simple books (for English classes)
  • Clothing (as new) – especially work clothes
  • Employment opportunities (ranging from once off to permanent).  Examples are:
    • packing (to move home)
    • gardening
    • cleaning
    • driving
    • catering, waitering
    • reception, administration or secretarial
    • construction and maintenance

Network will help match a potential employee to your specific requirements. All of Network’s graduates have been interviewed and screened.

Hiring an ex-offender may be a daunting prospect but Network is available to support by providing basic labour law advice and suggesting a reasonable wage.

Read the touching first-hand account of one ex-offender who is determined to triumph against the odds here.

For more info on how you can help, please fill in the contact form below.

*Jo is a fictional character

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