Vocational training gives prisoners a fresh start
UNDP is helping transform South Sudan prisons into institutions for reform and reintegration.
With the National Prisons Service and funding from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it has established a Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Juba Central Prison.
Since 2016, more than 100 inmate trainees have graduated from the programme and been released. Here are some of their stories.
“I was released on 29 January 2018 at exactly 9.42am. I remember it vividly.”
Ben earned his certification in electrical installation and has returned to the prison to teach practical and theory lessons. He has visited 196 released trainees to support them as they adapt to life on the outside.
Originally from Torit, Ben served seven years of a 20-year sentence for a financial crime he says he did not commit. While attending classes he met lawyers who were able to help with his case.
He now prefers to teach and support inmates who’ve been released for serious crimes.
“Although it’s difficult for many to get formal employment on release, I’m hopeful that what they learn will spread, and become something good,” he says.
Along a busy intersection of Ministries Road in Juba, mixed with the sounds of boda-boda taxis and police whistles, a barber named Peter is giving his client a fresh fade.
Originally from Yirol, Peter, now 23, was incarcerated at 16 for a fight which resulted in a death. As a juvenile, he avoided the death penalty, but he could not raise the funds to pay for bail and fines. Peter was released on 23 July 2017, after spending five years inside.
“Prison taught me patience and how quickly you can lose your way and lose your motivation,” he says.
Peter’s barber stand has two chairs. He’s found his natural ability to interact and build relationships with customers helps his business the most.
“I don’t want to stop here. I want to continue to get experience, and with more tools and word-of-mouth growing, I will move from a stand to a proper shop,” he says.
“I want to keep pushing and will not give up.”
Christine spent two years and three months in prison on financial-related charges. She was released in March 2017, after completing the training course in hairdressing and beauty therapy.
“The certificate of achievement itself is not enough on its own, unless it is followed by action. I know that with the plan I formulated, I can network and work productively,” Christine says. Since her release, she has worked in a friend’s salon, conducted garage sales, and has come up with other business ideas.
“I don’t want to lose momentum. I know how to persist through the struggle and I know I can accomplish something,”
“Prison nearly destroyed all that I had built in my life.”
Richard, 45, completed training in welding and metal fabrication and entrepreneurship. Upon release, he joined his younger brother, Moses, to establish a workshop. Together the brothers build metal and mixed material furniture in the Gudele neighbourhood.
“I was constantly thinking and worrying about my family on the outside. I was very stressed,” Richard says. His profits are now providing for his wife and paying for his six children’s school fees. “My kids are clever,” says Richard. “I want them to take something from here and from my efforts, I want them educated and growing.”
Since his release from prison, Richard has joined his neighborhood Police Community Relations Committee, also supported by UNDP.
“My home area, Yei, is not secure, and even here in Juba, the people cannot have real progress until we have peace,” he says.
Richard and Mandela
“I don’t want to go back.”
Richard and Mandela, both 28, forged a friendship when they trained in electrical installation, auto mechanics, and carpentry.
Mandela used the time to focus on being productive and overcoming the trauma he faced being incarcerated. His friend Richard, from Eastern Equatoria, served two sentences. The latest was a four year stay which ended in 2017 on Christmas Eve.
“My second experience, with the VTC, was nothing like the first time I went to prison,” says Richard.
“I was experiencing real distress in my life and then in prison. Through the VTC experience, I was able to change, and I feel a real benefit from it.”
“Among everything, you’re faced with the burden of how to provide for loved ones while on the inside and it’s not easy to stay positive,” says Mandela, who supports his parents, three brothers, and three children. His wants to plan a more solid future for his family.
“The work is going good, it’s very practical and hands-on. The experience I gain will help me in the future for more projects.”
Michael, 29, spent a year in prison for a crime related to an argument and physical altercation. He was released on 24 August 2017.
The electrical trainee now works as an apprentice on one of three crews setting up new power lines in Juba, a high-profile project signaling a new era of development in South Sudan.
“My wife suffered while I was in prison because I could not help,” says Michael. “My goal right now is to provide for my children and earn enough to afford a car which we can transport the babies to school in.”
Michael did not know a trade before. Now, with his technical knowledge of electricity installation and design, he is contributing to an important part of his country’s future.
“I have a lot of pride because I am working on a project which will advance Juba and South Sudan as a country. It has lots of benefits for our people.”
Story and photos by UNDP South Sudan