Island News

Farming a way out for inmates

Written By : JOE ULUILAKEBA – MINISTRY OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES. The reform or transformation of a prisoner is a tough assignment. It depends a lot on whether the transformation will
25 May 2009 12:00

Written By : JOE ULUILAKEBA – MINISTRY OF PRIMARY INDUSTRIES. The reform or transformation of a prisoner is a tough assignment. It depends a lot on whether the transformation will transpire from good to bad or from bad to worse.
The latter seemed to be the more popular of the two ideals and it being the bearer of bad news for many, also has the charm of being the well-liked of the two thoughts.
It is a fact and a true nature of the way the general public thinks of our sons, brothers, sisters and fathers behind the walls of our prison.
This can’t be denied and for many who have served their time, the re – introduction into society became a tough obligation that is often deemed an impossible task and one that will lead to isolation and the furtherment or the initiation of a career in the criminal world.
Being a criminal is a contented life for some. That is if you have the privilege of being involved in some sort of criminal activity in your life.
Life brings with it its worries, and from a criminal’s perspective it is matter of doing the crime and hoping to get away with it.
But getting away is a rare thing and for many of our citizens locked behind the walls of our prisons; this was the one thing that they failed in – getting away with their crimes.
This resulted in the massive overcrowding of our prisons and the numerous complaints received from behind the walls of our prisons alleging inhumane conditions and treatment received by the criminals.
Their story may seem fascinating, but the one thing that can’t be denied was the fact that they at one time or another have denied a family or two a happy life and caused terror amongst the public with their mischief and unaccepted exploits.
The blame however can not be directed towards the way the criminal or the men behind the bars think. For many it was peer pressure or the pressure you get from your friends – the demands to become a part of something that your peers are taking part in and to be accepted.
In most of our societies, this leads inevitably to a criminal act of some sort.
This is true in every housing estates or urban residential areas all over the country and lately the rural sector seemed to have woken up to the dawn of a criminal world.
And it is also true that our prisons are being populated by many from such neighborhoods and the majority of the people from the indigenous population too.
But on the island to the North of Viti Levu, the angle differs in the fact that many of the populace at the island prison in Vaturekuka came from the villages and farming communities in and around the three provinces that make up the Northern region of our country or Vanua Levu.
Confederated to the Tovata alliance, Vanua Levu has witnessed the true factor that bind this confederacy that is being one for all and all for one, an actuality that has became a binding issue behind the walls of Vaturekuka.
For Nadroga native, Simione Ere, the experience of working with his ‘dreu(s)’ has been a satisfying and a worthwhile factor since his posting to the Vaturekuka prison.
The Prison officer has the task of counseling the inmates and to explain the importance of reform to the convicts at the prison outside of Labasa.
Armed with a beautiful smile and a personality that suits his job, Ere describes his work as one that has bore fruit, satisfying to him and has gained the support of his fellow prison officers and the public as well.
A programme devised by the officers three years before the Yellow Ribbon Programme, became the fore runner of all the rehabilitation programmes at the Vaturekuka Prison and most probably all of the correctional facilities in the country.
Initiated on the 14th day of October 2005, the ‘Case Management Client’ Programme was aimed at the rehabilitation of the inmates and the support rendered to them once they live Vaturekuka Prison.
‘The programme mainly targets the treatment of an inmate once he lives Vaturekuka and to us this means the support we give each and everyone of our inmates and for us the people we have here were mainly from our villages and farming is part of their lives which was an issue that we took advantage of in our quest to reform a prisoner,” he said.
Forming an alliance with the Department of Agriculture, the Prisons and Correctional Services Department saw the importance of supporting a law defaulter once he returns to his village.
“Once the departure from Vaturekuka is made, the former inmate will be left on his own and we saw that our support will be needed to help them get back on track so the link with the Department of Agriculture is very important to us,” Ere said.
The programme of returning the former inmates to the land is covered in the CMC as the principal plan of rehabilitating the former inmates.
Close to forty inmates have benefited from the programme and as Agriculture Field Officer Rupeni Rabici said farming and the support that each former inmate get while on the farm is a feature of the Department’s role.
“The Department at the onset is quite involved with this programme and the inmates are trained while in prison where most of the practical works are carried out on the prison farm and we are there to support the prison department and their residents in their quest,” Rabici said.
Outside of Savusavu in the village of Levuka, 40 year old Ratu Kolinio Visawaqa has reaped the benefits of the programme.
A repeat offender, Tu Koli as his peers know him has been in and out of prison for the best part of his life and his latest experience at the Vaturekuka Prison has finally pointed him in the right direction.
Originally from Nubu in the Tikina of Nadogo Tu Koli made the move to Levuka after he got married.
Now into his third year out of prison, Tu Koli believes that the programme at Vaturekuka can change many lives and hopes for its continuing support.
“I was brought up in the suburbs of Labasa and farming never occurred to me as a source of income until I was initiated into the programme at Vaturekuka,” he said.
Tu Koli occupies a 4 acre piece of land bestowed on him by his in laws and plants root crops, fruits and vegetables for the Labasa and Savusavu markets.
“My long term crop is yaqona and for the medium term I have the root crops like dalo and cassava whereas the vegetables and pineapples being seasonal are used as short term crop and are marketed at the Savusavu market.”
Tu Koli has the advantage of being supported by his family and in laws and farming was a way out of crime for him.
“I am able to send my children to school from the proceeds of my farm and I am hoping to build a bigger house in the village for my family,” said Tu Koli.
He has two children who attend Batibalavu District School in Wailevu.
“I do hope that my fellow buddies who are still in prison will take up farming and stay away from crime as no family would like to be robbed nor hurt with the ignorant exploits of criminals.”
Tu Koli is thankful to the Prison and Agriculture Departments for the support he had while in and out of prison and admitted that the programme was the changing factor in his life.
“Had it not been for the programme I would have resorted back to my criminal ways and possibly end up behind the barbed wires of Vaturekuka Prison,” he said.
An added benefit to Tu Koli was the assistance by the Agriculture Ministry in the North. Tu Koli was assisted with chemicals and farming implements for his use on the farm as part of the Case Management Client programme.

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