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Prison journalism: Surviving outside amidst the challenges

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.


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Survival is an extremely important skill on the streets and in daily life. Always challenging, circumstances are constantly changing. Life will consistently bring you to a point where you either fall or pick yourself up from falling down.

Make or break?

Life owes you nothing and will take everything you have. You need to remind yourself every day that living on the street is just as different as living under a roof in a house. Daily, monthly, and yearly, you will face issues that will either make or break you.

Surviving storms and sunshine

Surely, we have all heard the saying ‘after rain comes sunshine.’ It is not completely true to some degree. Another saying is, ‘when it rains, it pours.’ This is mostly true. Others like myself who are in similar circumstances will tell you that while living on the street, it does not just rain; it pours.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: The impact of Restorative Programs in reducing reoffending and enhancing rehabilitation

Keeping your head above water

Look around your community, take notice of the people in their cars, walking to and from work, going about their daily duties. Each of them faces problems, whether financial or physical and mental. They all have one of the above problems, trying to keep their heads above water.

Nobody has the time to look around

The problem, I believe, is that nobody has the time to look around and help another. We are way too busy to help the person next to us who is in need. Not because we do not want to, but because we are so engulfed in our own problems. If we all would take a single second to look around and see what is going on, life would be better, and people in need would be in a better position.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: Challenges in South African Prisons

Prison issues compared to being outside

Being outside compared to inside prison is a challenging comparison, as there will be times when it may seem better off in prison. A person will ask themselves personal questions: How do I survive outside? Where do I find a means to live and feed myself? How do I get a job? These factors play a major role in the daily life of ex-offenders.

Keeping out of trouble by all means

Every single one of us has been in a situation trying to make personal changes. If it is for the better, it is extremely challenging; if it is for the worse, it will be so much easier. We are all well aware of this! I personally have tried time and time again to do what seems to be the right thing. It has never been an easy task. I have failed and gotten to a place in my life where I could say I completed my transformation.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: The Homecoming

Learning to let go rather than holding on

I have always been a sentimental person in my life. Call me old-fashioned. I have always held on to almost everything that has happened in my life, both positive and negative. Coming from a home and upbringing that groomed me to understand three important values in life: faith, hope, and love. I believe out of all; love is the most important to me. I have loved and I have lost. They say it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. It seems like complete madness. My heart has experienced more heartache than trying to find love and happiness. Sad, however, very true.

Starting with yourself, the better solution

I spent enough time inside prison and outside of prison to realize that the world we live in has no room for people like me. Sadly, the life my parents and elders prepared me for in my younger days is close to what life is today. Ironically, I am screwed over as I cannot change my values and molds to assist my better half. I would rather be the change I want to see in the world.

ALSO READ: Prison journalism: Reflections from Inside Prison

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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