Straight from Prison onto the Stage

30 05 2008

By Jolanta Slomkowski

South African youth, as well as youth all over the world, are facing a number of challenges, particularly when they live in conditions of poverty and disadvantage. Considering the very high levels of violence in our country, the effective treatment of violent youths is imperative. Crime statistics in South Africa say that most of ‘youth violence’ is a result of either alcohol and drug abuse…or being bored. I was thinking the same thing…crime is officially attributed to being “bored”!?! I can understand that alcohol and drug abuse impairs one’s judgement and for some, it means committing a criminal offence. I however, cannot understand the latter. (I’m bored now…but I know what I can do to not be)

Ok so I’m back and not bored anymore. Don’t worry I didn’t do anything that would classify me as a first offender J I’ve had time to think about that ‘bored part’ and voila…it makes sense. You see all too often the available official crime statistics are incomplete; what the statistics can tell however, is that something urgently needs to be done with the youth ’at risk’ and on the streets in South Africa. Youth is regarded as a developmental phase in its own right with a unique contribution to make to the individual’s present and future. (Let’s not forget the contribution the individual has to make to society too)

Crimes these children are facing include; their demographic presence, their ability to cope with rapid change, their openness to the future, as well as the challenges facing them – peer pressure and identity formation. Growing up, we learn how to interact and develop within families, social and cultural groups, schools, workplaces, communities, and the economic, political and social orders. Families are the fundamental building blocks for positive human development as well as being a ‘safety net’ for people facing challenges. Families are also a ‘storehouse’ of social values and all too often, somewhere in this hybridity, social values and norms are forgotten. Children become lost, vulnerable and ‘at risk’. I guess the important question to ask now is what can be done to rehabilitate previous offenders back into society and entrusting them to never follow the same route again. More importantly, what can be done to prevent children turning to crime as a solution? I found a poll on the South African Human Resource Science Management website which reads as follows; “What would be the most effective way to rehabilitate young violent offenders?” Perfect! This is exactly the answer I’ve been looking for. Various options were given and the follow was derived;

* 16 of 47 people say ‘Life skills education to resist factors such as peer pressure’

* 10 of 47 say ‘Skills development to help them find a job’

* 15 of 47 say ‘Mentors and positive role models to provide ongoing support’

* 2 of 47 say ‘Community service to make up for their crime’

* 4 of 47 say ‘Offenders should be kept in prison to take responsibility for their actions’

So the majority vote involves teaching children ‘at risk’ the skills they need to resist peer pressure, which in my opinion is a big influence on criminals, as well as teaching them the skills that are educational and provide them with something to dedicate their time too. (This is said in response to the crime statistics…you remember the part where it reads that crime can be attributed to being bored)

I went to visit the Egazini Centre in Joza, Grahamstown. Here I met a group of young men and women who were previously ‘at risk’ and some even first offenders that have spent time in prison. The Egazini Centre in collaboration with Grahamstown Social Development has been facilitating a program aimed at keeping Joza youth off the streets and out of prison. 30 children, ranging from between 9 and 16 years old are fetched from school everyday and brought to this centre. Since October last year, these children have been provided with a place of refuge, to learn assertiveness and confidence boosting as well as drama skills and management. They are also currently putting on a production for the Grahamstown National Arts Festival called ‘My Life on the Streets of Grahamstown’. Through this program, the children have built skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives and that could potentially help in their future dreams. Youth development is an integrated and positive approach that recognises the assets and strengths of young people rather than focusing only on their problems and limitations. This youth development project aims at doing exactly this; societal norms remain valid, the children feel cared for, valued and useful. This program serves a successful example to keep children off the streets and provide them with a sense of direction, and hopefully more like this will be implemented. If our crime statistics aren’t good enough at addressing the urgency for such initiatives to take place, then the inconsistency that exists around them should say something more.