How to treat an ex-con

By admin
09 May 2015

When a family member has come out of prison, they need your support and acceptance

Nkosinathi was arrested for housebreaking in his neighbourhood. The whole family was disappointed in him because of this, as he was not really lacking in anything to justify robbing others – nothing justifies theft. He brought shame on the family. He pleaded innocent, but the evidence was there. He was sent to prison and served 12 years. He was 23 when he was jailed. In the years that Nkosinathi was imprisoned, the family was also imprisoned as their mother suffered from ill health. The fact that her only son was now, in the eyes of the community, a criminal, broke the old woman’s heart.

Integrating back into the community

After Nkosinathi finished serving his prison sentence, he was released and came home. As much as the family welcomed him back, some family members found it hard to accept him as they no longer saw him as one of them, but as a criminal. Trust was a major issue for their caution, given the type of crime he had committed, and some people were cautious around him and hesitant to have him around. Nkosinathi was now serving another sentence outside prison, that of being judged and not being trusted by some family members and the community. This behaviour hurt Nkosinathi because as much as he tried to show people that he had changed, society was not fully trusting of him. However, he continued being the good person he wanted to be.

Ex-offender support

Jacques Sibomana is the spokesperson for the prisoner and ex-prisoner support group known as the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Re-integration of Offenders (Nicro). He says that in his organisation they offer assistance to ex-offenders. “We offer support to offenders before they leave prison and prepare them for integration back in their communities.” Sibomana mentions the importance of the family getting involved with the offender from the beginning as this makes life easier for them. “They (families) need to be there from the start so that they can understand the journey of the prisoner from the beginning until the day they leave prison. “This also helps them understand the new skills that the offender has learned while inside prison.” Sibomana adds that when the offender leaves prison, he or she can even start their own business with the new skills acquired from prison. “Families play an important role in welcoming the offender back. When an ex-prisoner is stigmatised, they may go back to their old ways. Most of them do not want to go back to the old ways, but the communities stigmatise them and they fall back into old habits.“

Challenges faced by ex-offenders

Ex-offenders struggle to get employment. The first step would be to help them find employment. Business people within the community are encouraged to offer them employment. The criminal record makes it a challenge for one to get employment. Employers are not keen to give work to someone with a criminal record. Integration back into the community is also a challenge as the ex-offender may be rejected. It also depends on the type of crime committed. In some instances, the offenders decide to leave their community and move to another place to start a new life. Other ex-offenders decide to stay, but it can take a while for them to be fully integrated back into the community.

What can an offender do to show that they have changed?

An offender needs to work extra hard to show that they have turned their life around. Many offenders have done so, and their lives have turned out for the better. They need to contribute positively in their community and persevere through the challenges. They can seek help from places that offer help to ex-offenders such as Nicro. The organisation has set up a database of ex-offenders looking for jobs. One would need to put oneself out there and get the help, or ask for help.

Expert advice

Reverend Mandla Gamede from the Methodist Church has worked with ex-offenders and emphasises the importance of accepting the offenders no matter what they’ve done. He advises families to encourage and support the ex-offender emotionally and financially. They may have learned a new skill but will need help in setting up the business. With employment being a challenge for offenders, they need that financial support. Spiritual healing is another element offenders need to get. In some instances, as part of the healing process, reconciliation between the ex-offender and their victims may be facilitated by family elders or a priest. There the ex-offender may get a chance to apologise. A third person needs to be there to avoid conflict. Accepting the person is very important.