A story on my volunteer journey (Part 2) – A Prison Volunteer
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MAKING MINDSET CHANGES
Ms Devi tries to make the most of the limited amount of time she has with inmates each week, in setting them on the right path. She has identified two key areas where she believes “mindset changes must occur” before inmates are ready to embark on the journey to rehabilitate. As the inmates she counsels are usually serving time for drug related offences, ‘ego’ and ‘forgiveness’ are the twin areas that must be tackled.
The first mindset hurdle, the ‘ego’, is something Ms Devi has had first-hand experience with. Ms Devi knows all too well the trappings that come with an ego. Recalling a close relative’s brush with the law, “you run a successful business and you are the head of the family . . . chances are, you’re not going to listen to your wife or children when they tell you not to drive if you’ve been drinking,” she says. The relative was sentenced to two months in prison, soon after Ms Devi began her counselling, for committing a drink-driving offence for the second time.
“That’s the difference between law and counselling. In counselling, we believe in second chance after second chance. As long as you’re willing to change, we’re here to support you. But with law, you’re no longer let off the hook once you commit the same offence a second time. You’re no longer offered a chance,” she reflects.
Sharing that her close relative has since “mellowed down his ego” after the “hard impact,” Ms Devi notes “things would’ve been different if he’d been willing to let go of his ego and listen to others, instead of waiting till after he suffered a fall”.
It is a lesson inmates can draw parallels from, she feels. “It isn’t uncommon to hear that inmates started taking drugs because someone taunted them. Someone has said to them, ‘Hey, you’re a coward. I know you don’t have the guts to try.’ If they choose to feed their egos, they’re going to say, ‘Who says I don’t? Pass it to me, I’ll show you now’”.
The second mindset hurdle inmates must grapple with is ‘forgiveness’, especially in relation to mending the fences with their family members. “Everything comes back to forgiveness,” says Ms Devi. She reveals that inmates sometimes hold hurt, anger and blame in their hearts: “Some feel betrayed because they have been turned in by their own families, others can’t forgive themselves because they’ve tried to stay on the right path, but find themselves back here [in prison] again.”
Ms Devi readily shares her story on her own relative’s brush with the law: “It was hard seeing my close relative confined in prison. So I tell the inmates if having someone you love in there for two months feels this bad, it must be so much harder for your families. Before you make a mistake, think about how your families would feel.”
For ex-offenders to resist the temptation of going back to their old ways, the best buffer and support comes from the family. “They are able to survive without drugs inside, but once they’re out, they can’t. Why? Because old friends come knocking on their doors, and if they do not have the support from their families, it’s going to be hard,” Ms Devi observes.
Her personal experience affirms the importance of the family unit in helping to turn around potentially damaging situations. Her own past was littered with “mistakes” and twists and turns that could have ended up horribly. “I was not a studious person. When I got to ITE College, my heart wasn’t on my studies,” she shares. She admits to hanging out with friends who preferred “having fun to attending classes, so we either showed up for class late, or we wouldn’t show up at all”.
The wake-up call came when the school noticed her mother of her misdeeds and she received a “good scolding”. “I just sat down one day and asked myself what I was doing with my life. How long was I going to let my parents continue supporting me? What was my aim in life?”
Ms Devi went on to attain her Certificate from ITE College. She is grateful that they stood by her, never giving up even when she heaped disappointment after disappointment on them. “My parents don’t believe in caning or punishing their children. They believe in talking to us, helping us understand why the things we did were wrong. That is why my parents are the people I respect the most in life,” says Ms Devi.
As a counsellor to inmates, she applies the same principles. Instead of merely laying down the rule of law, she chooses to “touch their hearts”, because “when they genuinely feel they did wrong, the desire to change will come from them, and that’s when the change will be successful”.
She brings up the story of an inmate she counselled, now aged 50, who had been in and out of prison since he was 17. He had been adamant that “no one can change him, not even God”, even proclaiming to Ms Devi that “I am definitely going back [to my old ways] again once I’m out”.
He did return to prison soon after release, and again came under Ms Devi’s charge. Counselling him for the second time around, she could sense a noticeable change in him. He had come to his own self-realisation of his mistakes. “He told me, Ma’am, at your age I could have been doing something like you [taking time to help others]. Instead, I was taking drugs’. That’s when I knew he was sincere about starting anew. Today Ms Devi no longer counsels him; the inmate has been accepted into a Prison School (to further his studies)
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x Nini, 30 October 2018