Is My Past Too Blick To Be Forgiven?

I have been to prison a couple of times, three times to be precise, as a visitor. Each of my visits has been unique; I stepped in prison with varied expectations, and stepped out with mirrored reality. 

Presumably, many of us are yet to have the physical experience of reaching out to prisons. Therefore, I will be your insight; allow me to present to you the speck of my experience, just a tiny bit of my experience. 

From time to time, as you interact with inmates, you will randomly hear one of them utter, “I have never been visited by anyone since I got incarcerated”. You might as well come across ex-inmates, down casted and beaten by life; the reason behind their disconsolate mood, nobody wants to associate with them anymore. Well, some of us might think that the neglect they receive is well deserved, a situation that only perpetuates the misery inmates and ex-inmates go through. 

So, who is to blame for this “ill-treatment” our brothers and sisters receive? The answers may be varied and far reaching. But what remains singular is that; inmates and ex-inmates who feel unwanted by the society end up being engulfed with a host of psychological issues.

We seem to lose all trust in incarcerated individuals and detach ourselves from them and their world. An article by Forbes on the importance of trust states that when trust is lost, we initiate an internal strike by withdrawing our energy and level of engagement, avoiding to be sympathetic to people who we feel have hurt us or treated us wrongly. This more or less, describes the fate inmates and ex-inmates go through. 

A close interaction with inmates and Prison Warden’s will reveal to you just how much the society has distanced itself from inmates. Somehow, we subconsciously tag inmates past mistakes on their foreheads. Even when they serve their time and are released from prison, we still feel the urge to cut ties with them; we do not want to ‘tarnish’ our identities by associating with anyone who has graced the walls of prison.  

I have come to realize that for some reason or another, most inmates are just people who slipped along the course of life and need a helping hand to stabilize their feet.  My interaction with some inmates has ascertained just how much they are willing to change for the better. However, strides inmates are making to reform are being met by our unwillingness to be part of their journey. We withdraw the urge to have a shared purpose with them and decline to offer not just our presence but also the energy and shared thoughts that can build stronger relationships. 

This is not to mean that the society should embrace individuals who have an unending appetite for crime, but we need to have a society that creates space for second chances. To my understanding, this is why prisons are called correctional and rehabilitation centers. For inmates, correction is already implemented through the sentence they receive. Then comes rehabilitation, now, this is where the challenge begins. We have left the rehabilitation process to be shouldered by the government, civil societies and a couple of well-wishers. 

A famous African proverb states that, “it takes a village to raise a child”. How nice would it be if the same is applied to inmates? In making an effort to see that communal effort is asserted towards the rehabilitation of inmates and reintegration of ex-inmates back into the society?  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  

In our defense, the atrocities committed by inmate’s warrants the poor treatment we give them. But why do we cling to their past and not embrace the changes they are trying to make? To my dismay, family members are on the frontline of neglecting their ‘dear loved ones’. A visit to Thika Women’s Prison, at the courtesy of NAFISIKA TRUST, unraveled this disheartening truth. 

The authorities have made efforts to allow inmates to make phone calls back home once in a while. It is such a huge privilege for the inmates to feel the heartbeat of their loved ones, even if it’s miles away through the waves of the air. But some inmates get hit with the reality that they are no longer welcome to have a seat at the family dining table. Just a simple greeting over the phone is outrightly declined; leave alone family visits to the prisons. 

Where else are inmates supposed to look for refuge if their families erect barriers against them? Whom are they supposed to lean on if friends turn their backs on them? Where else are they supposed to run to if the society excommunicates them, just by the virtue of them having made a mistake that landed them behind bars for a certain period of time? Is forgiveness no longer a thing or is it selective based on circumstances?

Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter if a person gets behind bars for an illegal activity they willingly committed or whether a ‘genuine’ mistake led to their incarceration; moreso, since there is no leeway for ignorance of the law. The simple fact that a person sets foot in prison already tarnishes their name and renders them as the outcast.  

Inmates also have mixed emotions. Some feel they were framed thereby sentenced wrongly; others are remorseful for what they did and have made a decision to change. Rehabilitation programmes such as Maisha Skills training (life skills) provided by NAFISIKA TRUST, beseeches inmates to embrace positive change of attitude by training them on how to make meaningful apology as well as how to forgive others. As they put the skills they learn into practice, we should be ready to reciprocate accordingly. After all, don’t some of us like using the quote, “The old has gone the new has come”? So, are we going to practice what we preach? 

Referring back to the Forbes article, there is a positive side to broken trust even amidst the pain of being wronged, let down and inconvenienced in many ways.  A prison sentence is already a hefty punishment. It will therefore be uplifting if we embrace inmates who genuinely seek to reform and look up to us to hold their hands in their reformation journey. Likewise, it would be uplifting if we jointly help ex-inmate’s to comfortably reintegrate back into society. Hopefully, this may in the end help in curbing recidivism rates.  

So, after knowing the plight of inmates and ex-inmates, are we willing to restore our relationship with them? I know that trust is not given, it is earned; but are we willing to forgive their past mistakes that have already been punished as prescribed by the law? Will we be part of the Rubik’s puzzle that aligns in place to create a better society? Or is their past too dark to be erased? Is their past too blick to be forgiven?

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