Imprisoned juvenile offenders in Torit play and learn outside prison on a rare free day
Within the tall walls of a prison fence, they have lived, in their hundreds. They have no clue what goes on around Torit town, because they have not stepped out of the prison in a long time.
“Today in Torit State prison, I feel freed because I can play, shout and clap for winning the games while in this place,” says Louis Ongwai, a 17-year-old juvenile who has been waiting for an opportunity to get a sense of freedom.
Louis was one of the participants at a community outreach event that entailed conveying messages of peace and hope for a good life after prison, sporting events, including a tug-of-peace contest, and music.
The prison juveniles emerged victorious over the Torit youth peace ambassadors, aided by the hundreds of male and female inmates who consistently sang to boost their morale.
“I thought we prisoners are ignored for the crimes we have committed against our people and government , but I want to apologize to the human rights activists and public for their concerns, I promise to go back to school when I finish serving my sentence,” says Louis Ongwai, who won a musical chair race against the area’s youth peace ambassadors.
The imprisoned juveniles, aged 12 and above, are in for crimes ranging from theft, to the more serious ones like rape and murder. But their team is beefed up by young adults, too, like Paska Dominic.
“I’ve now spent two years here because I killed a girl in a fight,” says the 28-year-old Paska, as she wipes tears using the sleeve of her blue prison uniform blouse. “I regret doing that today and now I’m in a place where I only take a bath once a day,” she says.
The event has brought her some respite from the behind-the-wall confinement, too.
“I have missed this kind of freedom and friends,” she says.
It is a good opportunity for the youngsters to learn some lessons, too, or at least reflect on their lives.
“We end up being in jail because we ignore education through multiple platforms, and today I challenge you to learn and to have hope because it’s not too late,” says Martin Saha, the deputy chair of the Torit Youth Peace Ambassadors, sharing a word of advice with the juveniles.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) works with all South Sudanese national stakeholders in the Justice sector to ensure peace and justice prevails in the country, as the country tries to implement the revitalized peace agreement. The UNMISS organized event was designed to reform juveniles through a strengthened education system, in line with an already-existing ‘Accelerated Learning Program’ that enhances learning conditions of school-going-age inmates serving different sentences.
Founded under the UNMISS community outreach programme, Youth Peace Ambassadors in Torit serve as role models for boys and girls, and as agents of peace and reconciliation within the society and schools. They sensitize different communities in Torit through messages, drama, poetry and comedy.
“Our mandate is to deter conflict through peace as well as reduce crimes in South Sudan. Once peace is strengthened conflict will reduce and crimes will also reduce automatically,” said UNMISS Human Rights Officer Anthony Nwapa during the event.
The prison Act 2011 says the juvenile prisoners are subject to compulsory education where available, even outside the prison institution. Access to other activities like social services, religious care, recreational activities and contact with their families are to be guaranteed, to boost their welfare in the prison. However, it is hard to translate what is written in the Prisons Act into reality, due to unavailability of relevant facilities in prison.
“To the juveniles, I urge you to benefit from the services and time here to improve,” said Margaret Idwa, acting local government minister for the Torit area. “You have to leave the prison when you a different person,” she said, while appreciating UNMISS’s support for the juvenile offenders’ education programme.