“But what if…” The speaker began.
It was a tale of two families at different ends of the spectrum…
Mr. Dona Akonga was a security man at Akansa Holdings. Life was normal until one fateful morning. A detachment of police officers arrived at his house. He was wanted for questioning. There had been a major burglary at Akansa Holdings. He and his fellow security men were prime suspects as it happened during their shift.
They were held while investigations went on. He thought everything would be over within a week because he knew he was innocent. But contrary to his expectation, a week turned into a month, a month into a year and a year into ten years.
What would have been his maximum sentence if had been found guilty of the said burglary?
Just 7 years.
But then he had spent 10 years; released only because the new attorney general decided to review a number of cases. He was now released. But released with what; into what?
His family had been broken. His wife was the sickly type so she could barely cope with the extra burden of being the breadwinner. She broke down and because she had no one to foot her medical bills, died from a treatable infection.
Dinaya, his first son, had to take care of the entire family (He and two sisters). He did whatever he could but he was just a 17-year old kid. He eventually joined a group of fraudsters and was able to put food on the table for his siblings.
But then one day, he ran out of luck (By now he was 21 years old). Himself and a number of their gang members were arrested. They were sentenced to 10 years each.
While in prison, he thought about his family and how everything had come crumbling down. The more he thought about it, the more he decided to deal with the owners of Akansa Holdings. His family’s woe had started with the false accusation against his father.
His heart was filled with hatred. He spent every day of the ten years planning his revenge. He knew exactly what he wanted to do once he was released. But what if…
Please, hold on to that thought…
Mr. Rufus Sotangu was a very good man. He had done his best to help people in his community. He had a wonderful family. But something was missing for a long time — He had NO son. He had five daughters.
Then one day, God smiled on him and his wife took in and gave birth — It was a boy. They called him Junior. By now Mr. Sotangu was 55 years old.
Junior got the very best in life. He went to the best schools and repaid his parents with excellent grades. He graduated with a “second class upper” and his parents decided he should get his masters abroad.
Junior completed two masters at Harvard and worked for a few years at a highly reputed firm in the US. But some time later, he decided it was time to go back home and take over his father’s business. He was 25 years old then.
He arrived safely and was met with joyous celebration. His father couldn’t believe that he would see this day with his own eyes — He was now 80 years old.
One evening, Junior decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. A young man accosted him…
“Are you Junior Rufus Sotangu?”
“Yes, I am,” He smiled.
But his smile was short lived. The young man pulled out a gun, shot him twice and then ran away.
Junior died on the spot.
Mr. Sotangu (Senior) just couldn’t bear the news. He had a heart attack and passed on within 2 weeks. The grief was overwhelming for his wife — She suffered a stroke.
The family met and decided to leave no stone unturned until the perpetrator was brought to book.
The police swung into action and caught the suspect. It was Dinaya, the first son of Mr. Dona Akonga; the former security man at Akansa Holdings. He had made a full confession…
“They destroyed my family. They sent my father to jail for ten years for a crime he never committed. He lost hope in life and is now wasting away as a drug addict. I lost my mother because of them. My sister became a prostitute because of them. I became a criminal because of them.
Someone had to make them pay. I did and that’s enough for me.”
He was sentenced for life but what if…
But what if we didn’t have a broken justice system and people were presumed innocent until found guilty? What if our justice system moved faster and people didn’t have to spend years behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit?PF Nigeria has been working with the relevant authorities to create a complimentary alternative criminal justice system. It is referred to as Restorative Justice System. It is a system that meets the justice needs of offenders, victims and the community.
But what if some people had cared enough to cater for Mr. Dona Akonga’s family while he was awaiting trial for ten years? What if his kids were sheltered and supported? What if his wife’s medical bills had been paid?
What if the family was NOT totally cut off from their father?
What if Dinaya was able to see his father from time to time?
What if he got gifts from Daddy reassuring him that things would be ok?
Would he have been on his revenge path if he had all these?
PF Nigeria runs the Angel Tree programme.
This programme focuses on the families prisoners leave behind, especially their children. We reach out to them with the love of Jesus Christ. Doing as much as lies within our power to meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
The concept is very simple but has proven to be very effective. We help prisoners maintain contact with their families. We help raise and send support/gifts to their kids and ensure they do NOT feel forsaken and abandoned by everyone.
This produces very positive results: The kids are better catered for, thereby reducing the risk of them turning to a life of crime. Their incarcerated parents have a bigger incentive to reform their lives thereby reducing their chances of re-offending.
But what if some people had taken it upon themselves to preach to Dinaya while he was first incarcerated? What if he had accepted God’s love and had turned from hate to forgiveness?
But that’s what The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ) is all about. It focuses on the spiritual transformation of prisoners. Prisoners learn that God loves them and is ready to forgive them no matter how grievous their offences may be. Prisoners who give their lives to Christ have a different world view like Abaurada…
This programme has really helped me. Previously, I was planning that on my discharge, I will take vengeance on my enemies, but now I understand that I should allow God to work out things for me and other people. My view of things has changed seriously because of the things I have learnt and I am determined to teach other people some of these lessons when I leave the prison.- Abaurada (Inmate)
But what if Dinaya had been taught useful skills, given a mentor and provided financial support to start something useful in life? What if he had been taken through counseling sessions to address the wrong emotions he was dealing with?
Our Onesimus Project does these and more. However, due to cash constraints we can only cater for a limited number of inmates.
But what if Dinaya had been taken through a victim awareness programme that compelled him to take responsibility for his crimes at first incarceration? What if he had been made to realize the impact his crimes had on his victims? What if he had apologized for the hurt he had caused? Wouldn’t it have been harder for him to re-offend?
Our Sycamore Tree Project does just that — It raises victim awareness among offenders and brings them to a point where they take responsibility, show remorse for their crime and try to make restitution.
But what if Dinaya wasn’t just released to nowhere but was taken into a half way home (Like the one we are building at Kuje)? What if this home was designed to make it a lot easier for him to reintegrate into society without having to worry about food, shelter and clothing? What if he was able to learn new skills in an environment filled with people who understood what he had been through in life?
Might Junior still be alive now simply because the hatred in Dinaya’s heart would have been replaced with the love of Jesus Christ and a wholesome purpose?
We can spend the entire day asking “but what if?”
You can support those who are already doing their bit to ensure that more “Dona Akongas” aren’t held for crimes they did NOT commit.
…That their families are catered for if they are incarcerated.
…That their kids get the support that will keep them away from crime.
…That the essential family bond is maintained through interactions between the incarcerated and free.
You can support those who are already doing their bit to ensure that more Dinayas are NOT created.
…That every prison inmate is made to realize the depth of God’s love.
…That every prison inmate is made to realize that God will forgive them NO matter how grievous their offences are.
…That every prison inmate has an opportunity to live a life free from guilt even while behind bars.
…That they can turn their lives around and become a treasure to the society.
…That it isn’t over if they’ll turn over to the Lord.
Yes, you can support those who are already doing their bit to ensure that more “Juniors” and their families are spared the pains and agony that come with such avoidable tragedies.
Yes, you can support Prison Fellowship Nigeria because we do these and much more.
Some may argue…
“But no matter what you do, there’ll still be criminals and there’ll still be tragedies.”
Yes, that’s true but should that stop us from preventing tragedies that are within our powers to stop? Should that stop us if we can help keep even one soul away from a life of crime?
That reminds me of a story…
There had been a bad storm and the beach was awash with tens of thousands of fishes struggling for their lives. Everybody seemed unconcerned. They were going about their normal activities.
Everybody was doing nothing about it apart from one little girl…
She was picking the struggling fishes one by one and throwing them back into the sea.
Amused, one “wise” adult came to her and said…
“You can’t save all of them. Look at the whole beach. There are probably tens of thousands of them. What you are doing won’t make a difference.”
The little girl was quiet for a while and then picked up one more fish and flung it as far into the sea as she could…
“I just made a difference to that one…
…and that one.
…and that one.”
She said as she kept picking up the fishes and throwing them back into the sea.
Yes, we can’t help everyone out there but we can help some. And with you joining us, we can help even many more.
Your generous donations will make a big difference.
Note: The names of characters used in this write up have been made up but the testimony shared is an inmate’s. The tale of two families while NOT a true story is based on real facts from inmates and their victims.