Prison shatters children’s lives

Weekender

By THEO YASAUSE
FROM infancy, children depend on their parents to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. They learn to recognise the faces of loved ones from an early age, and with no one else to rely on, they trust those loved ones to keep them safe.
But there are also children who aren’t fortunate enough to have another human being to depend on, children who are left to raise themselves.
Children are innocent victims of incarcerated fathers and mothers. There are at present more than 400 fathers and more than 40 mothers held at Port Moresby’s Bomana Prison. The numbers would obviously be a lot higher when parents in other prisons in the country are counted. The incarceration parents has adverse effects on their children and families in general.
When a person becomes a parent their role in life undoubtedly changes. The person must become a teacher, a guide, and a helping hand in the life of the child. It is widely accepted that there is a distinct connection between how a child is raised and their overall development outcome.
Regular and sustained physical contact is required for the child to develop mental, physical and social abilities. Because of incarceration, many children are forced to forfeit their homes, their safety, and self-image and their primary source of comfort and affection.

Jacob meets his dad
For nine-year-old Jacob Jamangu, it was painful to meet his dad for the first time inside the confines of the prison. Jacob who grew up without his father. His dad was sent to Bomana immediately after his birth in 2011. The look on his face paints a picture that he is lost and suffers from stress. Jacob was asked recently about how he felt missing his dad and this was what he had to say.
Question: How do you feel with your dad not being around? “I miss my dad, when I see other children go out with their fathers holding hands. Their fathers take them in their vehicles, or buy presents for them on their birthdays and just being around their parents. It’s a great loss for me and my brother.
“Every Christmas when people ask me what my Christmas wish is and I tell them I have only one wish. I just wish my father is out of prison.”
His little heart was broken and he was in tears when he visited his dad.
Jacob lives with his grandparents at Gerehu.
When asked how he reacted when he saw his dad for the first time, Jacob replied: “I am lost for words. I find it hard to say a word.”
The look of concern on his face is heart-breaking. He looked sad instead of being happy. He was sad because he knew that as soon as he walked out the prison gate his father would remain absent for a long while before another visit.
He attends St Paul’s Primary School at Gerehu Stage 6 but says he does not concentrate well and many times he sits and thinks of his dad. He says he does not read well and wishes his dad is there to teach him. It was evident that the boy was traumatised and is apparently a slow learner due to the acute situation he was faced with.
His small brother Max misbehaves and fights a lot, Jacob says. He does not listen or obey his grandparents or those near him.
This is the reality facing some children of incarcerated parents.
Studies around the world indicate that children of incarcerated parents’ would have major problems in life even at birth. Some would have behavioural problems, temper tantrums, and loss of simple social skills. They are deprived of a normal social life.

Michelle’s story
The second story was retold of a mother who is an inmate at Bomana. Michelle John (not her real) recently wrote a very passionate letter to the Chief Parole Officer and stated the obvious. A copy of her letter was made available and below are excerpts from it.
Michelle is married to Peter from Gulf (name and province substituted). She is currently at Bomana after being convicted of murder in July 2015.
She says she is the second born in the family, the first is a boy. She grew up in a remote part of the country under the care of her mother’s parents. This was because her father remarried and left with his new wife to the Automous Region of Bougainville.
She grew up in the village and had no chance of pursing any formal education. Her mother was adamant to send only her brother to school due to financial constraints. She understood and stayed home. She then got married to Peter in 1998.
Her first son with her then husband was named Robert who is now 19 years old. They adopted another son and named him Junior John whose mother passed away.

A second wife
Her then husband got married to a second wife in 2004 and they separated and she moved from Gulf to Port Moresby to live with her mother. She had lived with her mother at the 5-Mile Settlement for seven years. Her estranged late husband reappeared in her life in 2012.
Despite his adulterous lifestyle, she considered him as the father of her son and allowed him back into her life. She did not want her son to grow up without a father like herself. She felt the pain of a child without a father and did not wish that for her son. She accepted her husband for the welfare of her dearest son who was attending school in Port Moresby.
She had reverted to her normal life as a wife and a mother. In 2012, she had another son and named him Pais.
In 2015, the second wife of her husband came into Port Moresby and resided at the Wild Life Settlement. Her husband resided with the second wife and other times with her and the kids as is the case in many polygamous relationships.
One day her elder son did not return home and continued to miss school for a week. As a concerned mother she went out in search of her son as she was desperate for his safety and wellbeing. She went to look for him in all possible places where she thought he would be at.
There was no sign, so she tried calling the father, but the mobile phone was switched off. She then went to look for her son at the Wild Life Settlement considering that her son could be with his father.

Convicted for murder
When she went the second wife did not reason out well the rational for her being there so an argument erupted. In self-defence, she injured the second wife and as a result of the injury she died some time later at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
She was then charged, tried and sentenced for murder.
Michelle said she had no intention of killing or harming the second wife as she was there only to look for her son. Today, while being held inside the Female Wing of Bomana Prison, she deeply regrets going to the Wild Life Settlement that day.
Her second son, Pais was living with her inside the prison for one year and six months before he was released to be with his grandmother. She says she heard stories from relatives that her son was not doing well after spending time in the prison and was traumatised.
To make things even worse the relatives of the second wife forcefully took over her mother’s house at the 5 Mile Settlement with all her belongings.

Situation worsens
“This situation has gone from bad to worse as my illiterate mother whose only source of income has been taken away. Caring for my five-year old boy and two other grandsons in the city environment is a real struggle,” Michelle says.
The adopted son’s parents are also dead and this has placed additional pressure on the old woman and besides there is no proper accommodation for them.
Michelle’s elder son went to bury his father in the village and is still there.
Lately, she heard rumours of him being lured into drugs and this has saddened her more.
She says with tears in her eyes that it is a real nightmare for her at present.
Her children’s father passed away too soon and she was truly concerned for the kids’ future.
“Their education and personal welfare are my greatest concern as there are no guardians to provide for them and give them the love and care they need.”
She wants to be considered for mercy and release on licence this year.
Michelle says she was a first time offender and is truly sorry that her actions have caused the death of a precious soul. She promises herself to live as a law-abiding citizen.
She says she seeks the understanding of the authorities to give her an opportunity to be heard on her request for early release on parole.
This is the reality about incarcerated parents who are faced with daily stress and agony, knowing that their children’s hearts are broken into pieces.
Michelle shared her story to discourage mothers and young women from relationships that may cause them to come into conflict with the law.
The pain and agony parents suffer in prison is beyond comprehension, she warns.

  • The author is an inmate at Bomana Prison.

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