Teacher makes pledge from behind bars

People

By DOROTHY MARK
L IVING inside a prison cell and going to school proves that education has no bounds for Martin Benjamin.
The 24-year-old’s story is one of a journey to redemption and being of service to his community.
Benjamin was convicted of man slaughter in 2013 and was sentenced by the Madang National Court to 11 years’ jail with hard labour.
Last year he topped general mathematics and applied science at Tusbab Secondary School and was selected for Madang Teachers College to study primary school teaching.
Last week Benjamin and other trainee teachers were sent to Kusbau Primary School for their six-week teaching practical.
Benjamin said setting foot in the school ground was joyous and surreal feeling.
“I was so happy and could not express it but deep down in my heart I said, ‘This is it. Thank you Lord,’” he said.
Benjamin said he was allocated to the grade 3B class and felt honoured to meet his pupils for the first time.
They did not know he was a prisoner. How would they react if they knew he had been in jail?
Eventually, after getting to know his pupils and earning their trust and admiration, Benjamin decided to tell them his story.
The class was quiet but all the students were amazed and started giggling while others clapped their hands to express their appreciation and gratitude for Benjamin for his honesty.
Benjamin’s class repaid him with a determined effort to learn and participate in his stay at their school.
Benjamin used his experiences to teach his pupils about life and making the right choices and learning to pick yourself up after getting into strife and facing major challenges.
He said the rehabilitation programmes now rolled out in the Correctional Services had given him a second chance and allowed him to be a useful member of society which was something he was grateful for.
The CIS officers at Beon Jail bring him to school every school day.
Benjamin was among a group of more than 200 grade 12 students who graduated from Tusbab Provincial Secondary School in Madang last year.
He had entered the school in 2015 as a pre-grade 11 student from Beon jail.
The pre-grade 11 class was set up by Tusbab Secondary to prepare students who wanted to do grade 11 especially non-school leavers and those with lower grades.
After doing pre-grade 11 in 2016 Benjamin did grade 11 proper in 2017 and completed grade 12 last year.
Benjamin is from Tumbalere, Kagua-Erave, Southern Highlands.
His aim was to become a high school teacher but said he would start with primary school teaching at Madang Teachers College.
“Life in prison is very hard,” Benjamin said.
“You have to be strong mentally to survive. It is stressful because you worry about yourself and your family.”
Benjamin said many prisoners were depressed and desperate and that was one reason why breakouts occurred.
But Benjamin made a decision to focus on getting educated and read books and studied.

 Life in prison is very hard.
You have to be strong mentally to survive.
It is stressful because you worry about yourself and your family.

He said jail’s administration noted the effort he was putting into his studies and allowed him extra time to study at night.
“I thank Beon’s management and officers who helped me to come this far,” Benjamin said.
He said the current rehabilitation programme at the jail was taking effective steps to give prisoners hope.
“My story is the success story of the rehabilitation programmes the CS department is running,” Benjamin said.

The grade 3B class of Kusbau Primary School happy to have Martin Benjamin (at the back) as their trainee teacher.

Benjamin is the only student out of more than 400 students at Madang Teachers College who was granted a day student HECAS fee.
Benjamin could not afford his tuition fee of K638 when classes began at the beginning of the year but Madang Provincial Magistrate Josephine Kilage helped him by paying the fee.
A grateful Benjamin said he was counting his blessings.
He said he would complete his prison term in 2021 which would also be the time he would graduate as a primary school teacher.
“I know God has a plan for me and I know He is helping me as I do my time and is preparing me for a better and brighter future.”
“I went to Beon as a convict in 2013 and will return home to Southern Highlands as a teacher and a changed person,” Benjamin said.

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