Remembering My First Visit to Juvenile Prison

James Ouma
Posted April 12, 2017 from Kenya

I still remember the very first time I went to prison and spent time with boys in juvenile prison. It is the most sobering experience I have ever had in my life. I had to surrender my Identity Card and phone at the main gate and had to finish the session in the stipulated time before the wardens changed shifts. Otherwise, I would have to spend the night behind bars! If it was a joke, I thought the wardens taking me around had gone way out of hand. As the minutes ticked by, I discovered I was just like them. I was a prisoner, at least, for that period of time.

Because most people easily dismiss boys in prison as good-for-nothing criminals they don’t get to meet the most wonderful human beings I have ever had the honor of meeting. Meeting and knowing boys in juvenile prison have sort of made me come to terms with myself, other people and the world we live in. It has made me to become aware of the things I am capable of achieving, wealth and purpose. Take for instance, what I heard, just before I met a group of 100 boys aged 12 – 17 years.

“You mean all you want to do is just talk to the boys?” an officer asked, in shock. “These boys are used to receiving things and they won’t listen to you unless you come bearing gifts.”

“That may be true,” I replied. “I am sure they will value the time I will be spending with them every Friday. Besides, since other people bring them stuff, coming with nothing will be an added advantage for me,” I added, hoping and praying that God was hearing my prayers.

As we walked towards the holding cell block where the boys were, renewed doubt and fear ate into my heart. With each new step, I thought about the education and money I didn’t have. I immediately regretted coming and offering to spend time with the boys. Having not had a man to walk with while growing up, I knew I was biting more than I was going to chew.

Once I entered the cell block, things changed. After introducing myself and the volunteer I had gone with, I asked what the boys expected from me. What I heard opened my eyes and shift to focus on God and ask for wisdom and courage. There are numerous groups who visit prisoners to share the Good News of the Gospel. Most of these groups bring toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, bar soap, milk and bread. And because I didn’t bring these things my morale was ready to hit its lowest ebb.

“Teacher James,” one of the boys said. “We know you are doing something good by coming to spend your time with us. Those who bring us things don’t do it because they want to. They do it because they have it.”

“I don’t understand, at all,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” another boy said. “The more people look, the less they see. They also say that the quickness of your eyes deceives your body!”

“Okay, who said that?” I asked.

And instead of replying me, he started singing…

See dem come live with dem Its a different thing they all are! Hand a bowl, knife a throat No love in their heart No want no! Hand a bowl, knife a throat No love in their heart

“Aha, I can see you guys like listening to reggae music,” I said.

Different boys, same script

After taking a long break, I didn’t expect to go back to prison and working with boys without gifts. I also didn’t expect to meet Diamond who I first met him in 2013 at Nairobi Remand & Allocation Prison, Industrial Area. Seeing him, seated expectantly, with the other boys tugged at my heart. I had and still have a thousand questions to ask him. I will have to wait and see what happens during our successive future meetings.

However, I have noticed that these boys have accepted to have sessions with Elisha and I. I have also noticed they like listening to reggae music. In fact, I am downloading ‘One Stone’ by Culture from Jamaica after the boys requested me to bring the songs with me. Now that I have the song, I look forward to hearing what the boys get from it.

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