Ex-offenders should never lose hope because although there are challenges, success and a fruitful life after prison are possible. This was the overriding message conveyed at the Msunduzi Municipality’s ex-offenders workshop at City Hall on Monday. The event, attended by various government departments, officers from Correctional Services, the office of the mayor and numerous ex-offenders from the district, featured various speakers who grappled with issues facing ex-offenders. An ex-offender who runs his own clothing business, Basil Mthethwa, who said he was once jailed for hijacking, shared his story of how in a twisted turn of events he also became a victim of the same crime when he first started his business. “When I first started out, a car that was carrying my stock was hijacked and I lost everything. “I had borrowed the money get the material from a loan shark because I knew I would be able to raise it once the business picked up. “The loan shark paid me a visit soon after the incident and because I could not give him the money, he took all my sewing machines and other equipment away with him, leading to the collapse of my entire business,” said an emotional Mthethwa. Mthwethwa thanked Mazo Ngubane who has volunteered to assist him get his business back after his challenging start and encouraged other ex-offenders to persevere and not return to crime.Ex-offenders who spoke at the event said apart from a criminal record, the stigma attached to ex-offenders posed the biggest challenge for them upon their return to the outside world. “In prison we acquire many skills and trades. Some people even graduate in their matric and other courses. When we re-emerge into society we should be able to turn these skills into businesses and successful careers but the stigma attached to ex-offenders makes this very difficult,” said Tholakele Mkhize, an ex-offender who runs a sewing and beading company. “We urge the Pietermaritzburg community to support ex-offenders and not judge them,” said Mkhize.Another ex-offender, Sifiso Moloi, cautioned against the glorification of crime, prison life and gangsterism by ex-offenders. “Jail is not something one can be proud of,” said Moloi. “I do a lot of work with young people and a permeating issue is that prison gangsterism is glorified among school children in local schools. “Let us stop killing young minds by encouraging a life of crime amongst our youth,” said Moloi. Siphamandla Khumalo from Msunduzi said the workshop’s aim was to share experiences and ideas on what can be done to defeat inequality, poverty and unemployment among ex-offenders.