Prison journalism-Breaking the Cycle: A Journey from Incarceration to Redemption

Solitary confinement in prison. Image by

Prison journalism: Breaking the Cycle: A journey from incarceration to redemption

Wesley Leong was incarcerated at the age of 15 in 1996 at Pollsmoor Prison. He is currently part of Restore’s research and reintegration project.

Prison journalism-Breaking the Cycle: A Journey from Incarceration to Redemption

Solitary confinement in prison. Image by

Picking up from where my first article left off, I’m going to explain to you my story in depth, from the time when I was in juvenile incarceration until my release. 

The Early Years: Juvenile Incarceration and Reintegration

After two years in juvenile prison, I was released and started reintegrating myself back into society, and to be bold, my life. I continued with my schooling. I missed the 3rd and 4th semesters of grade 9, including the first and second terms of grade 10. In the year 1999, my life was normal and everything seemed to be back to the way things were. My old friends from the past were no longer in my life. I associated myself with people who were heading in positive directions and had aspirations for change.

I struggled with reform and reintegration, but I had the wonderful support of my mother, sister, brother, and good friends around me. My choices in life were made strictly for healthy, long-term decisions. Every day, I used to pass my friends from the past; they were still heavily involved in crime, and I didn’t see any change in the future of their lives. I was so grateful and appreciated the changes that I had made in my life.

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A Family Crisis: The Kidnapping that Changed Everything

In 2001, my sister was kidnapped by Nigerians for prostitution. At the time, I was not aware of the reason as to why she was kidnapped. But waking up every morning and looking at my mother’s face, I could see that she had no life left in her, worried about where her daughter might be and if she was still alive or not. South African police services did not help with regard to finding her; any effort for urgency left my mother hopeless, so I took it upon myself to go and try to find my sister.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Criminal Activities and a 60-Year Sentence

Over the course of about nine years, give or take, I got involved with many wrong activities and criminal behavior, basically just doing the absolutely wrong thing. I was only focused on trying to find my sister. I was involved in robbery, attempted murders, kidnapping, and other things that I may not mention. In my participation in these crimes, I ended up in prison with a 60-year sentence, basically four charges, 15 years each. One charge was for the possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, the second charge was for armed robbery, the third charge was for the murder of a police officer, and my last charge was for hijacking.

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Lessons from Behind Bars: The Cycle of Incarceration

Prison for me this time was not like the first time when I entered a maximum facility. I was a lot older but wiser and had past experience of being incarcerated. I was in for a major surprise. My loyalty to my blood bond with the number only got me into more trouble inside prison. I often find myself reflecting on whether I’m going to be going home or not. I lost myself again, couldn’t understand my attributes, and was completely oblivious that I had fallen into a trap of the cycle of ending up in prison over and over again. I spent about seven years inside before being released on parole, four years in a maximum center and three years in a medium facility.

A Second Chance: The Challenge of Reintegration

At that point in my life, I realized that I’m not the only one who falls into the deadly cycle of repetition and ending up in prison over and over again, where society and the government fail us by not providing some type of structure or workshops to prevent us from committing more crimes and ending up in prison again and again. I really wanted to make a change and reach out to share my story to prevent anyone else from going through the same problems, issues, and choices that I did, which landed me in prison again.

The message I’m trying to share with you today, while you read this article, is merely a preparation for my following article, so you can have an in-depth understanding of what really goes on inside, what issues we’re challenged with, where we can make changes, and what needs to be done. I look forward to writing my next article and sharing it with you.

ALSO READ: Prison Journalism: How Sticks escaped from prison to go to his mother’s funeral

Should you wish to assist in the rehabilitation of former inmates and help put money into the pockets of those who have struggled to earn a living during and after incarceration, click HERE 

DISCLAIMER: Submission published as received

RESTORE is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa, providing inmates at Pollsmoor Prison with restorative justice opportunities.

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