Saving the lonely souls in jail

Saving the lonely souls in jail

MASERU – The first time Motsokotsi Motsokotsi* went to jail, he had stolen a tin of sardines from a Maseru grocery store in 2003.
The second time it was for a bigger, bolder and fatal heist – thanks to a jail stint that hardened the once petty thief into a cold stoned killer.
He is now locked in Maseru Central Prison for ambushing and killing a motorist whose car he intended to rob.

For prison authorities, the idea of jail time is aimed at punishing criminals as well as rehabilitating them into model citizens.
But many times, jail just ends up as a training institution where hard-core criminals initiate petty criminals into the big league.
Motsokotsi’s “graduation” into a diehard criminal amplifies calls for legal reforms that can usher in alternative forms of punishment for people nabbed on minor crimes.

Inside jail, life is tough. So are the lessons.
After being laughed at and called feminine names for being jailed for such a “small” crime, Motsokotsi was determined to prove he was a man.
And he set on a path to meet the “manly” standards set by prison bullies who serve as recruiters and instructors and are instrumental in turning petty criminals into gang members ready to move to bigger crime once released.

Released from prison in 2005, he sought to prove his worth. The result: a dead motorist and a 15-year-jail term for a former tinned fish thief two years after his release. Motsokotsi is one of many people who are relapsing into crime after they are freed from prison.
Socio-economic issues are behind most of the relapses, says Nkalimeng Mothobi, the president of Ex-Convicts Association.

Mothobi says the number of prisoners reverting to crime after their release from jail is “high”, although he does not have exact figures.
Amidst a debilitating unemployment climate, those still able to offer jobs are hesitant to hire former jailbirds.
“Many of them commit crimes again because they do not know how to survive in the communities,” Mothobi says.

Mothobi, once imprisoned for murder, described prison rehabilitation programmes as “inadequate.
He founded the Ex-Convicts Association after realising the plight of former prison inmates who find life outside jail unbearable.
In a way, his organisation’s campaigns are beginning to pay off.

The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and the South Korea-based International Youth Fellowship (IYF) have entered into an agreement to rehabilitate prison inmates. IYF is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the psychological, intellectual and emotional growth of young people.
Home Affairs Minister Tsukutlane Au signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the IYF on behalf of Justice Minister Mokhele Moletsane last Friday.

Both the LCS and the IYF agree that inmates have to undergo rehabilitation to curb relapses into criminal activities once they are released from prison. The IYF is offering what it calls Mind Education to prisoners to carry a positive attitude after their release.
Director of IYF, Kim Ki Sung, himself a former inmate and now a Christian pastor, says relapsing into criminal behaviour can be curbed through proper learning of the Bible and systematic theology if the right skills are applied.

Sung, who spent 17 years in prison for robbery, says most prisoners believe that they have changed when they are serving their prison term but “that is not always the truth because some only behave just because they are under the supervision of the prison officers”.
“The fact that prison officers are strict and do not let any criminal activity happen in prison makes the inmate think they have changed,” Sung says.
“Some of the prisoners who are given a life sentence behave well and when they are forgiven and their sentence is reduced, they commit crimes after being released,” he says.

“That is because they have not changed at all.”
Sung says not long ago a Kenyan prisoner who was sentenced to death was released on the belief that he had changed because he behaved well.
Once outside he murdered five more people.
He had been in prison for 18 years.

Sung likens the Kenyan’s experience to his own.
“I was jailed for robbery and murder in 1987 when I was 23 years. I was sentenced for 17 years in prison and after serving them I could feel that I had not changed,” Sung says.

“I was in danger of committing more crimes,” he says.
LCS Commissioner, Thabang Mothepu, says they have been working with IYF for a year.

“Today marks the milestone, the coming of great achievements not only to inmates but the entire Basotho nation,” Mothepu says.
He says he hopes that the signing of the MOU will not be the end of the process but should mark the beginning of the on-going training.
Tsukutlane Au says the partnerships help Lesotho tap from South Korean experiences.

“Not so long ago the Korean country had many challenges like our country, but now they have the strongest economy in the world because they know how to use their minds,” Au says. The names of all the people mentioned in these stories, with the exception of Mothobi, are imaginary but the stories are real. Their experiences were narrated to us by president of Ex-Convicts Association Nkalimeng Mothobi.
He was responding to queries on why some ex-convicts relapse to their old criminal habits after being “rehabilitated” in prison.

‘Makhotso Rakotsoane

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