A few months ago, Iwas talking with an acquaintance from the Nigerian Army about the youth and social behaviours. We talked about drugs and addiction and he suddenly asked me a very unexpected questions “HOW CAN YOU REMOVE THE STIGMA OF AN EX-CONVICT IN THE SOCEITY?” For a few seconds, I was speechless. I never expected such question from him, judging from the meanners so often associated with military men. I asked myself if that question was borne out of genuine concern for ex-cons or he just wanted to know what I would say. Well, I wasn't able to give him an immediate answer, so he adjourned our discussion pending when I came up with an answer.
I was really disturbed by the question or maybe, by the societal attitude towards ex-cons.Or maybe by the soldier's later words, 'whatever your answer may be, just remember that they are also members of the soceity and everybody is equally important”. I have seen people who pay visits to Motherless Babies Homes and orphanages, refugee camps and other places we feel the inhabitants are in need of love and care on Sundays and Christmas, New year Day and even on Valentine's day but only a few visit the prisons. Why? Don't they need love as well?
I was going to Awka one day and the bus I boarded stopped at the filling Station opposite Amawbia Prisons. I don't know if it was a free day for the prisoners but some of them were outside begging for financial assistance under the watch of heavily armed wardens. One came to my window and asked begging for financial assistance; “even if its money to buy soap”, he said. I was silent but the elderly lady beside me dismissed him saying she wasn't the one that sent him to prison. I saw the pain in his eyes when he left and I felt sorry not giving him anything.
Our society is so hostile to prisoners and ex-convicts. A life of crime isn't something to be upheld or praised, but then, everybody deserves a chance to be loved and appreciated. What if he/she was wrongly accused? Recently, five men were released from Enugu State Prisons after they had spent five (5) whole years in prison, on the basis of wrong accusation of murder- and someone must have treated them as less humans because they were prisoners. Will the society welcome them with open arms and make it up for wrongly accusing them? What compensation will they receive from the society for trampling on them for five solid years? Can anything equal the pain and heartbreak they and their family felt all those year?
What if that convict that came to my window was able to escape the long arm of the law? What if he was able to bribe his way out? What if he was able to flee from the crime scene? There are so many what ifs on my mind. If that young man had done any of these, I wouldn't have seen him in that state with that sorry look; that woman have said that to him. Had he not been arrested and convicted, she may see him somewhere and relate better with him but NO!He is a criminal and should be treated as a piece of filth. And what if he was wrongly accused?
How many organizations are willing to employ ex-convicts? Yes, they led a life of crime but nobody is willing to give them another chance to be better persons. Nobody is willing to give jobs for them to earn decent living. We see them in the streets and gatherings and we make faces and clutch our purses. We tell our neighbours and friends to,“keep their belongings within reach, there is a criminal in our midst”. We stop associating with them before we become “Criminals byAssociation”. The treatment is even extended to their family. We don't buy from them before they sell stolen wares to us and we don't sell to hem before they pay us with stolen money. Seriously, does it have to get to that extent? So they should starve to death because one of them stole? What if he wasn't caught? He may have donated heavily in our churches and communities or even buy drinks for us and we would accept and confer titles and pray for God to bless his endeavours! The money wasn't screaming “I was stolen”, so he is covered so long he wasn't caught.
Because nobody is looking out for them, our prisons authorities are misbehaving, prison warders are misbehaving.And even when hard labour is in their sentence, their living condition brings tears to the eyes. Why? Because they robbed a bank or an elite in the society'? What about those who alter figures after the robbery? Because they killed someone? What about those who kill and go away unnoticed? What about those that embezzled funds and have their tacks covered? Is it because they stole with PEN and the convicts used GUN? The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Some of them are afraid of leaving the prisons after their sentence because they know the kind of life that awaits them outside the prison walls. It is hard to be in prison but it is harder to live in a world where they are (continuously) reminded of where they have been and how hard their lives was there.
Ex-convicts need love, care and acceptance to overcome their traumatized lives and not another judge who never saw the four walls of a law school. They need to be welcomed with open arms to enable them fit in once more. It is bad enough that they went to prison and had their rights trampled upon. We don't have to make them pay forever. Everybody has a dirty side that wouldn't escape criticism when exposed, so let's help those whose own were exposed.
Lets not quickly forget that some of them were released on parole because they were of good behaviour in the prison. Some actually repented in there but you will never know unless you come closer.
As regards the question thrown to me, I still don't have an answer, but if you do, please share with me so I can get back to my military friend.