Feb 4, 2014

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Stories of hope and redemption – Pollsmoor inmates embrace the Imbadu Men’s Project

Stories of hope and redemption – Pollsmoor inmates embrace the Imbadu Men’s Project

Read what communications company Lemonade Hub writes about Imbadu’s work in prison:

“God makes and takes, but he never makes mistakes”. “You are never too old to learn”. “Without love, you are nothing”. “Having respect for others makes a person beautiful.”

You wouldn’t think these are words that were spoken by inmates at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison. Especially by young men between 18 and 25 who are serving time for offenses such as burglary, mugging, theft and assault ? and many of them belonged to dangerous gangs. These young men have all taken part in the Centre for Christian Spirituality’s Imbadu Men’s Project, which is facilitated inside the prison.

People’s general perception about prison is that it makes the inmates even more prone to violence. But the decision to revert to violence remains a person’s own choice. It is someone’s attitude that determines whether he wants to continue on a destructive path or whether he wants to be healed.

Unfortunately other factors have a critical impact on a person’s mindset, factors that determine how he deals with his situation and that affect his ability to make better choices. A lack of education, peer influence and society’s reluctance to help offenders with employment can cause people to further spiral into a vicious circle of despair and crime.

An alternative to violence

This is where the Imbadu Men’s Project and the Alternative to Violence Programme (AVP) come in ? to give men the tools to move from violence to non-violence (this is called “The bridge”), to be able to handle conflict constructively and to come face to face with their mistakes so that they can make a change in themselves for a better future. These two growth programmes are offered to inmates at Pollsmoor and the results have been very encouraging.

The way to a new life

Imbadu stems from the Xhosa tradition of men gathering around the kraal to address issues that concern men. The Men’s Project also deals with issues that concern men and masculinity, but not in any way that is dominatory. It provides a space for men to be able to do self-reflective contemplation with guidance, and teaches them about respect for themselves as well as for others in the context of our society. It is based on Christian values, but men from all religions are welcome to benefit from the project.

Where are the men?

With so many young men in South Africa falling into a life of gangsterism and delinquency, ruining their chances of success, there is one question that always crops up. Where are the men? Where are the men that are supposed to take responsibility for their families, to teach their sons about respect, love, honesty, good values and what it means to be a man? What does it mean to be a man today? Thousands of young men do not know anymore, because their fathers are absent, drunk, in prison, in gangs.

The Men’s Project is giving the men at Pollsmoor a chance to find themselves as men, men with a purpose, with respect and with aspirations to have a better life when they are released. Topics that are discussed as part of the project include reflecting on what makes you how and who you are, your purpose in life, how to treat people with respect, what you will do with your future as well as who or what God is to you.

Inmates who prove to have understood and embraced the principles of the project are awarded with a certificate of accomplishment after they complete the programme. They are also invited to make a pledge to themselves regarding their future.

Facilitating a change for the better

Joy January is the case intervention officer who selects inmates for the Men’s Project and the AVP (she is also an AVP facilitator). She is very positive about the programmes, especially as she can see first-hand the change in how the men regard female prison wardens and how they have more respect for everyone they have contact with.

Lesley Thomas, who facilitates both projects, is a walking example of how far a person can come in life when they decide to make better choices and to take responsibility. Lesley has a history of imprisonment and can relate to the inmates’ situations. His 10-year sentence for armed robbery was reduced on his good behaviour and while he was in prison, he decided to change his life.

During that time he did the AVP and studied music (he even got a visit from Madiba). After his release, he joined the Centre for Christian Spirituality to become a facilitator in order to help change the lives of other men as well.

 The courage of acceptance, the hope to change

The latest group of men to complete the Men’s Project are an inspiring sight. They are thankful for the tools they received to become better men, inside the prison and outside, and they eagerly shared their experience:

Adrian feels that the programme helped him grow as a man, it made him understand where he stands with God and he has seen how it has taught them to communicate better.

Mzukisi has learned that his behaviour towards women has been disgraceful and he has pledged to treat women differently and respectfully. The programme made him realise that a man can be strong without doing “those things”, meaning abuse and violence.

Denver, who used to be a member of the 26 gang, has realised that the way he used to live will not take him very far in life.

With a positive and determined demeanour, Courageous Christopher (at the Men’s Project everyone has an adjective name) expressed that the project helped to stabilise his life and that he never wants to “walk in his negative footsteps again”.

And then he revealed how a person who is given the means to be healed and the motivation to strive for a better life can come to self-realisation and a new understanding of their circumstances. “Yes, I am in prison, but my mind is free.”

– Words by Lemonade Hub (www.lemonadehub.co.za), December 2013

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