Vukivou Finds More Meaning To Life
It has been 11 years since the Fiji Corrections Service (FCS) formalised the paradigm shift from one of containment to rehabilitation and corrections under the Corrections Act 2006.
While security is still one of the major functions of the department, our mission is to provide an effective and efficient prisons and corrections system through the adoption of innovative programmes of offenders’ management and rehabilitation programmes. We work in collaboration with the community and other agencies.
Many tend to question this move to date and the new role absorbed by the department without realising that the new visioning stresses paramount importance on the need to stir offenders to become responsible citizens not only to ensure successful reintegration into society but contribute passively to nation building.
For some prisoners, especially those that have spent years or decades of their lives locked up, getting out comes with a mixture of overwhelming joy and anxiety.
They often want to start over, but don’t know how to achieve that. They need somewhere to live, to work. They need counselling, but have limited resources. Some prisoners are released with only the clothes on their back. Life on the outside can be a huge challenge – so hard that many prisoners fail at it and end up back behind bars before long.
That’s why programmes that help inmates re-enter society are critical. With the introduction of the Yellow Ribbon programme and other rehabilitation initiatives, FCS is trying to make a difference, starting from when an inmate is first incarcerated and following through to those initial hours when an ex-inmate is released and to the months that follow as they work to get their lives back on track.
Last Saturday, a delegation from FCS led by the Commissioner of Corrections, Commander Francis Kean, journeyed through the muddy and rugged terrain of the thick forest of Naitasiri to check out the progress of one of our inmates on early release.
There are three types of Early Release scheme; early release on education, employment or release for community work. All these, however, is based on assessment carried out and through good behaviour and positive attitude of the inmates.
Jekope Vukivou, 43, was released in January, six month prior to his actual release date, for community work under the supervision of Corrections Chaplain Reverend Josefa Tikonatabua. But his case is special as he is carrying out community work to benefit himself and his family.
Mr Vukivou is a father of seven and a first offender. He was incarcerated in 2012 with an imprisonment term of five years for a robbery case in one of the supermarkets in Rakiraki.
Through constant counselling, the chaplain was able to identify his area of weakness and needs and he also saw the real potential for genuine change.
“All that I did was for my family but the path that I chose was wrong that landed me in prison,” Mr Vukivou said.
The Wainibuka native’s wife has moved on with another man while his children were distributed amongst his relatives.
Plagued with loss, hurt and pain from the mere thought of having his children living separately without a proper home and family, Mr Vukivou’s life was completely shattered until Reverend Tikonatabua came in as his guardian angel.
“With a plan in hand, we are thankful to the FCS for approving my request allowing Jekope to undertake this programme.”
Deep in the interior of Natoaika, about two-and-a-half miles away from the village is Nasigadua, last used by Reverend Tikonatabua’s family for farming more than 30 years ago. This is where Mr Vukivou is rebuilding his life through the mentorship of Reverend Tikonatabua.
With the assistance from the FCS Rehabilitation Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Vukivou was assisted with dalo cuttings to start off his farm. He lives in the farm with three of Reverend Tikonatabua’s family members from Monday to Thursday before returning to the village to spend the weekend and for the others to sell their produce in the market.
The greatest things in life don’t come easy, that’s why we have to fight for what we love, because nothing is worth having if we don’t fight for it. Definitely, Mr Vukivou is a living testimony of this, embracing the tough battle and the sacrifice in order to provide for his children.
Since January, he has already planted 4595 dalo with a market value of over $20,000 topped off with a few yaqona and banana planted in his plantation. Mr Vukivou says he will continue to expand with more cuttings made available.
He is using tents as his farm house donated by the New Zealand High Commission.
It might not be comfortable but it is enough for Mr Vukivou to achieve his dream and goals in life.
Because of the geographical location of his farm, his harvest at the end of the year could only be transported by bamboo raft through a creek, a few kilometres away from his farm, to where it could be easily transported to various markets.
He is now aiming to build a house of his own in his village in Wainibuka where he is looking forward to raise his children from his harvest. His eldest daughter is now studying agriculture at the Fiji National University campus in Koronivia.
Mr Vukivou is a first offender and due to his hard work and good behaviour, he was also one of a few inmates selected as part of FCS educational programme. He graduated with 17 certificates from the Fiji National University majoring in Joinery and Cabinet Making.
“I was also on job placement after graduating from FNU but then again, when this opportunity came, I grabbed it with both hands because I believe I will earn more from utilising the land. It looks hard but it has the sweetest reward because you get a good return from your hard work,” Mr Vukivou said.
“I want a good future for my children and I will continue to work hard to give them a better life.”
Commissioner of Corrections, Commander Francis Kean is happy about the progress and has passed on his well wishes to Mr Vukivou.
“We wish Jekope all the best and pray he makes a successful reintegration back into society,” Commander Kean said.
Source: Fiji Corrections Service