Feature

How Life In Prison Helped Conibeer Find Himself

‘Set your goals, find your focus and keep at it. Respect others and respect yourself too. Have faith in a higher power and surround yourself with positive people.’
01 Aug 2020 15:20
How Life In Prison Helped Conibeer Find Himself
Leon Marseu Conibeer

According to Leon Marseu Conibeer, reform begins internally.

After more than six years of imprisonment at the Natabua Corrections Centre, he now leads a quiet life, farming chemical-free produce in Kulukulu, a scenic coastal community flanked by the famous sand dunes.

“Prison gives you lots of time to think and after only three weeks inside, I accepted my new reality,” the 36-year old recalled.

“During that time, I spent a lot of time soul searching and reflecting. It was sort of the death of my former self.”

Born to a Welsh father and Rotuman mother, Conibeer spent many childhood memories with his family in Kulukulu and was raised in Nadi, where he owned a bakery prior to his imprisonment in 2o13.

These skills would come in handy and he was tasked with designing and establishing a prison bakery in 2014, under the direction of former Commissioner of Corrections, Ifereimi Vasu.

With just a pencil, a sheet of paper, rubber and his Bible, he wrote and submitted a proposal and design of the prison bakery.

This was approved and the bakery was opened within a year, supplying bread for inmates’ meals and pastries for special functions.

“The bakery was to ensure food security and reduce costs, particularly for breakfast and lunch as the Fiji Corrections Service was spending about $80,000 per annum on bread for the Lautoka institution alone.

“It was a good initiative for supplying meals, developing the baking and operational skills of inmates, and ensuring that time in prison was productive.”

Former inmate Leon Marseu Conibeer harvesting tomatoes from his farm. Photo: Susana Hirst-Tuilau

Former inmate Leon Marseu Conibeer harvesting tomatoes from his farm. Photo: Susana Hirst-Tuilau

Aside from generating income for the FCS’ Yellow Ribbon Program, the bakery also upskilled participating inmates with a new trade to assist their own aspirations for small businesses and SMEs.

Conibeer was also tasked with registering and mapping burial plots for Lautoka’s Balawa Cemetery, a project overseen by Government MP, Alex O’Connor, who also visited Conibeer’s farm this year and kindly provided farming implements.

While imprisonment was a crushing period, it propelled the school dropout into a new venture.

Goals to invest in another bakery upon release were derailed by unforeseen circumstances and he mapped out a new agricultural plan while still serving his sentence.

That plan has slowly manifested into a single acre farm, with produce supplied under the banner of Korolevu Traders.

“I managed to secure land with the assistance of my uncle and I’m very thankful to both him and the landowner for enabling me to lease agricultural land.”

Initially, he had planned to cultivate watermelon but that failed because of adverse weather conditions.

“I planted watermelon just over an acre and then Tropical Cyclone  Harold came along and wiped out the entire lot just as they were about to flower.

“I had then replanted my field shortly after that and later found out (the hard way of course) that the seeds were expired.

“That’s was when I decided to try tomatoes.

“I had started with 500 tomato seedlings and now have almost 2000, I’ve started harvesting and they are chemical-free as a healthier alternative to the usual produce.”

Youths in the community are casually employed to assist when necessary.

“My biggest inspiration has definitely been God, and my two children. My family, partner and close friends have been very supportive with my aspirations.”

Conibeer’s advice to youths and other inmates being discharged is simple.

“Set your goals, find your focus and keep at it. Respect others and respect yourself too. Have faith in a higher power and surround yourself with positive people.”

Edited by Ranoba Baoa

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