Is Desistance Possible in Youth Criminology? A True Life Course Interview with Ademola.
Professor Don John O. Omale
Professor of Criminology,
Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State, Nigeria
Martha M. Butt, in the book, “The fair child family” (1818), said that “all children are by nature evil and while they have none but the natural evil principle to guide them, pious and prudent parents must check their naughty passions in any way that they have in their power, and force them into decent and proper behaviour and into what are called good habits”.
This quote and research evidence on youth criminology have shown that delinquent behaviour patterns appear at puberty and they slowly burn out after reaching the peak between 16 and 18. During adolescence there is an increase in testosterone, changes in the ration of excitatory and inhibitory hormones and neurotransmitters, and the physical restructuring of the brain. It is argued that the earlier the onset of puberty, the greater the level of problem behaviour for both boys and girls. Around the age of 20, the neurotransmitters start to decrease and the inhibitory transmitters start to increase. Thus, more adult-like personality traits emerge. Hence, Robert Agnew’s General or “Super Traits” Theory argues that the neurological and endocrine changes during adolescence temporarily increase irritability and low self-control among adolescents who limit their offending to that period, while for those who continue to offend, their irritability and low self-control is a stable characteristic.
The above scientific evidence alludes to the fact that delinquent behaviour has both psychobiological and sociological roots. It is therefore wrong to label and stigmatize young offenders as criminals and unredeemable.
The making of Ademola: Who is Demola?
My name is Ademola (surname withheld). I was born on July 10th, 1990 in Owo Ondo state. I remember when I was a child; my mother was first married to a man that was not my biological father. She wasn’t married to my father at the time because my dad was already married and had three other children with my step mother. My mum had my brothers and I while married to another man because the man could not reproduce. She had always told my brothers and I while we were young that the man was not our biological father.
So, I met my biological father for the first time when I was 8 years old; though, he had always been there for us financially. I remember my mother’s husband at the time would beat my brothers and I mercilessly for the most minor things. For example, he would flog my brothers and I for not getting good grades in school, sometimes he would put hot pressing iron on my body and leave scars on me when my mother was not around. Life as a young child was horrible and it was ultimately very difficult to comprehend why a man I called dad at the time would maltreat my brothers and I.
I finished my Primary School at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Ado Ekiti in 1998 at the age of 8 years old. I met my biological dad for the first time and during that same year; my mother packed her belongings inside her Mazda 626 and drove us away from the abusive man that she was married to. I got into secondary school in 1999 and attended Holy Child Catholic Secondary School in Ado Ekiti; a private boarding house school which my two brothers and I attended. My mum worked as the Regional Manager for Confidence Insurance at the time and my dad will send money for our provisions and school fees. During this time, my mum’s ex husband would visit us on visiting days and would bring us food. He still behaved as our biological father at the time, unknown to him that my mum had told us many secrets that were hidden from us from birth.
During this period, I never really took anything seriously. I considered myself to be a very brilliant child, my teachers were impressed by my performance in class and I never got into trouble. In the year 2000, I was promoted to JSS2. Because of the system of schooling at the time, the stress of living in boarding house coupled with the stress from home largely contributed to the truancy behaviour I demonstrated. I would fight with my class mates. Senior students will punish us for no reasons while teachers would punish and beat my peers and I for not performing well in class or not meeting compliance. The delinquent behavior started during this period. I was promoted to JSS 3 the following year and I wrote the Junior Secondary School Certificate examination and passed that year. While my biological father was still in my life at the time, I never saw him because he was a very busy man. The man who abused me as a child who was also my mother’s ex husband continued to stay in touch. I travelled to Akure, Ondo state to see him where he worked as a lecturer at the Federal University of Akure and he insisted that I attended Silas Secondary School boarding house which was close to his home for my Senior Secondary School Certificate. I remember when my mum would visit; I would steal out of her purse and take the money back to school with me to buy expensive food for my friends. I would give my friends a lot of money because they felt I was from a more privileged family. They took me as their little brother because I was small in stature. In 2002, my mum became a Senior Legislative Officer at the National Assembly. She had to move to Abuja and left her old job as a Regional Manager with Confidence Insurance. We moved with her. Since my biological father had moved from Ibadan to Abuja during this period, we had more time together. During holidays, I would travel from Akure to Abuja and spend time with mum at her Zone 6 apartment where she stayed at the time. In 2003, my biological father had been appointed as the Ambassador of Nigeria to Germany and his first marriage had failed because of an accusation that my step mother had attempted to take his life.
So we travelled to Germany in 2003 to finally stay with my dad. I finished 12th grade in Berlin at Cambridge International School. Everything got better because we lived a stress free life and that was all the family and I ever wanted. Still, my relationship with my biological dad was questionable because I wanted asking why he was never there. I had so many questions as a child that no one could answer because they felt I was too young to understand. I carried this burden with me for years. I wanted to be like my dad because I saw how he was respected by everyone and how intelligent he was. Before I graduated in Berlin in 2016, I was in 12th grade going to 13th grade, my parents advised that I move to the USA to join my brothers and I left Germany using my Senior Secondary School Certificate from Nigeria before I finished 13th grade at Cambridge International Secondary School.
Although, I was from a Christian family, we had devotions both mornings and in the evenings daily, but that still didn’t stop me from the delinquent lifestyle and peer pressure. Traveling to the United States became my worst night mare. I had the freedom I ever wanted but I never knew that such a freedom was indeed a thing that would be temporary and would end up creating a painful experience that will mould me into the man that I have become today.
What happened in Baltimore in 2009?
I moved to Baltimore in 2008 and started studying Political Science at the Community College of Baltimore County. I loved to play football and hang out with my Fellow Nigerians who had travelled all the way from Nigeria to attend school. We would normally play football and attend school parties. Everyone knew each other and we all got along fine. I stayed with my two brothers in a home in Owings Mills in the County of Baltimore. I started out with good grades during my first year in College; I tried to impress my parents. Both of my brothers attended University of Maryland Baltimore County which was located right beside the Community College of Baltimore County. In 2009, I made friends with some Nigerians who attended my school. It started out with the use of alcohol and going to clubs on the weekdays. The focus shifted from going to the classroom everyday for lecture to skipping classes and eventually dropping out of school and focusing on music at some point to dating different women at a time. I dropped out of school in February 2009. I attended Howard Community College and started studying Sociology and dropped out three months later. During this period, my parents had left Germany and gone back to Nigeria after my dad’s service as an Ambassador to Germany. The lifestyle that I lived brought about a rape incident in which myself and 3 other close friends were accused in August 2009. From February to August 2009, I found myself in many troubles with the law that did not result into an arrest per se. Because of peer pressure, lack of a capable guardian, and the use of drugs and alcohol, I made clubbing my most important focus in life at the time.
I was accused of rape alongside with my two friends in 2009 after going to the club one particular evening. We picked up some strippers and because we didn’t have the resources to pay for a hotel room, we took them to secluded area to have sex with them. That night, my friend suggested that we shouldn’t pay the girls and we should tell them we will go to the ATM and withdraw cash to pay them. However, one of the girls disagreed and started arguing with my friend. So, I rushed into the car, turned the engine on and we left the girls there. Out of anger, one of the girls called the police that night and accused us of rape.
Many days later, I was charged with first degree rape and 22 other counts of felonies and misdemeanours. Since the incident occurred in Baltimore city jurisdiction, all three of us were booked at the reception of the Baltimore City Detention Centre known to be one of the most notorious jails in the United States. This experience changed my life for the worse while I sat in jail for 22 months awaiting trial. The case was later dismissed by the court because the witnesses were nowhere to be found. During the 22 months of my incarceration, I learned criminal behaviours such as the ways and codes of the streets. My friends and I joined the Islamic brotherhood for the sake of jailhouse protection. The Baltimore City Detention Centre was known to house notorious killers and drug lords who are all awaiting trial and they all became my friends and brothers indeed at the time. I lost the sense of identity and I became a totally different person. The city jail was also known for contrabands such as cell phones, drugs, and prostitution. The female correction officers will sneak in contrabands for their jailhouse boyfriends and family members which would then be sold for a large sum of money.
I picked up bad habits such as smoking marijuana during the 22 months that I became an addict by the time I was released. Upon my release, I did not return back to Nigeria because I lost connection with both of my parents. During the time of my arrest, my dad had just been appointed as the Nigerian ambassador to the United States; the appointment was later refused by President Barack Obama because of the incident. I didn’t know this while I was incarcerated until I was released. I lost connection with my siblings and my whole family. I held on to many of my jailhouse friends and continued to communicate with them even after my release.
Baltimore City Detention Centre changed my life for the good and for the bad. I developed self respect and ego by being able to stand up for myself in situations that I never imagined. I fought for myself in jail and earned my respect over a period of time. I integrated into the typical African American culture of Black respect and crime, and street code became my value system which ultimately replaced my African cultural value system. This certainly was not who I was or how I was brought up. I watched so many criminal activities occurred and I would always defend what was wrong instead of what was right.
In 2011, the charges were dropped and I was far from rehabilitated. I had picked up bad habits and my mentality was then of criminality. My parents enrolled me in school and I did not attend. My co defendant of the Baltimore County case was also released along side with me. We became very close friends and would meet every day to talk about jail house stories. In fact, some of my friends from behind the walls who were released around the same time and some who were still behind closed walls still communicated with me after I was released.
My incarceration was from August 2009 to May 2011 for the Baltimore incident, the next three months following my release was a mystery and a period of my life in which my actions, thoughts and perspective or values were not really mine. I was a different man and it started just like!!!!!!!
After my release that day, I went home and had dinner with my family. My mum was en route to the USA from Abuja. She landed a few days after my release. I bought a vehicle when I got out, tried to enrol in school but I dropped out a few weeks later.
My activities during the first three months involved smoking marijuana, drinking, attending parties and hanging out with some of the guys I met while I was in jail. Since I had a vehicle, I was able to drive my friends around. I had sold my previous vehicle to get a new one upon my release.
I had a job but I quit the job after 2 weeks. Since I needed money and my parents would not give me any money, I started to look for ways to earn money to live a fast life. I invested in throwing house parties, and at some point I would buy contrabands for my fellow jail birds who were still incarcerated and I will get it sent to them through a correctional officer so they can sell it and remit me. I have always seen people do this while incarcerated and it is common for released inmates to make their vow to look out for their homeboys when they get on the street.
Imprisonment and Recidivism
I enjoyed my freedom and I never thought about losing it for once again. I took life for granted. Indeed, I had a better opportunity more than others because I was from a very privileged family. I give God the thanks and glory because I know that I am yet to achieve my purpose. During those days, I wondered why I was never killed or seriously injured because of the kind of lifestyle that I lived. In fact, the lifestyle of an inmate at Baltimore City Detention Centre was the survival of the fittest.
Of course, I didn’t fit into the lifestyle of my family or the Nigerian community. This was because people looked at me differently, they hated me and they spoke badly of me. So, my relationship with the people around me and those who knew of me became something that was just difficult to write home about. I could only relate with criminals and we got along fine.
All the habits and the lifestyle that I gained from my experience while incarcerated were all street codes and ways to commit crime without remorse or guilt.
A criminal idea was brought to my attention from a friend of mine who was my co defendant during my subsequent incarcerations in both Maryland and Virginia. The idea was that a group of strippers would be visiting the area during that period because of the social activity going on in specific clubs that were being publicized. My friend at the time suggested that we should go about robbing them. But we were only successful in two and we ended up serving time for both cases in Virginia and Maryland.
It started in 2012 July, when a girl my friend met through www.backpage.com and was a stripper at a club in Bethesda Maryland initiated a contact with him. He called me and told me about the idea and we headed out to the hotel. We were supposed to have some drinks and have sex with the girl. She asked for 200 dollars and we didn’t pay her. My friend ended up taking an item that belonged to her. She called the police and told the police what had happened and since the incident happened in the hotel, the police had a warrant out for our arrest. It happened that we were charged for rape and robbery in Maryland because we had consensual sex with the girl; of course she claimed rape which was probably because we didn’t pay her and because my friend stole her purse.
A day later we went to Washington DC for another robbery of another stripper she met. She stayed in a hotel in Ashburn and she had kids in Oakland California based on the conversation between her and my friend. My friend made it up to her hotel room and I stayed in the car. I didn’t go with him not because it was planned but because I was exhausted and I was still driving to DC for a party that night. While my friend went to rob the girl for her belongings, I waited patiently and I didn’t see him and so I called his phone but no answer. I was very worried. I remembered the room number so I went up and knocked, luckily he opened the door and I saw the lady on the bed. I told my friend to lets go but he refused. Infact, he brought a BB gun to show the girl and scared her for some money. I just stood there and observed. 5 minutes later we left and went for the party in DC. On our way back from DC the next morning, we were stopped by state troopers and investigators and taken into custody for the offence committed in Maryland the previous day.
The girl had claimed rape and alleged that her properties were stolen. I don’t really remember what property was stolen; I know some money was stolen and maybe an Ipad. The police charged us with rape and robbery and I was booked that same day. When my parents heard about it, they tried their best to ensure no one knew about it and I became abandoned in jail. I got a really good lawyer who defended my case and all charges were dropped. But since I had a previous rape incident that the cases were non-processed and I was found not guilty, the investigators and prosecutors were determined to ensure that I took a plea during my first hearing date for 4th degree sex offense which was a misdemeanour and the maximum punishment was 60 days in jail. I had already served eight months and I didn’t want to wait any longer. So I took the offer and I thought I was getting released when I found out that Virginia had a warrant for my arrest on robbery and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. I waited for Virginia to pick me up, whereas my co-defendant did not wait to take the plea. Instead, he went for another hearing date and the plea for him was dropped down to a simple assault.
I was extradited to Virginia three weeks later and I found out that Virginia and the investigators from Maryland had vowed that I would spend some time in prison for the robbery case. I thought the case would have been dismissed at the preliminary but unfortunately it was not. So, I hired a lawyer and went to trial 10 months later. I had already been incarcerated for two years. During my trial, the investigators were able to fly the stripper lady from California to Virgina for trial, and she testified. She mentioned that I was the one who calmed the situation in her room while my friend was asking for her money and that I came in much later when I didn’t hear from my friend. The Judge found me guilty of attempted robbery and the use of a fire arm in commission of felony. Although, I didn’t have a weapon, but because the girl said I had a knife in my pocket that was revealing. I was sentenced to 6 years in prison. That night I cried and I wanted to kill myself when I got back to my cell. I was put on protective custody and I went through mental evaluation to ensure that I wouldn’t commit suicide. It was the most difficult time of my life. Six years felt like forever. When I told my parents, my mother cried with me over the phone and my dad lost appetite for weeks. I made my parents unhappy.
The Virginia correctional system was rehabilitative. Although, it was also dysfunctional in many ways with regards to the treatment programs and re-entry programs that were available to offenders. But the institutional programs such as schooling, and facility equipment made it easy for convicts to focus on their time more effectively by engaging in activities such as exercising, playing sports, in addition to commissary and better nutrition. The Virginia correctional system also had a more effective deterrence and a behavioral point system that enabled convicts to comply with the rules and regulations if they are concerned about early release and not catching new charges that will prolong their incarceration. In other words, do your time and go home.
I was moved into the correctional system through reception in Richmond. I spent 46 days in reception and went through classification during this time. I was then moved to Keen Mountain Correction Centre far southwest of Virginia in the mountains. I got a job in the kitchen and woke up early in the morning at 5.30 am daily to go to work. Since Keen Mountain was one of the newest prison systems in Virginia, the offenders maintained decorum and they were high level and mid level convicts who wanted to earn low behavioral points in classification and annual review meetings with counsellors to be able to get closer to their family members in northern Virgina and tide water areas of Virginia. Also, it is believed that the later prison settings were more lenient because they are managed by black correction officers, and at least they are able to get in their contrabands such as phones and drugs. My prison experience taught me a lesson that, people behind the walls although they appreciated freedom but they still make bad decisions and will generally break the law if an opportunity to do so exist. I stayed in Keen Mountain Correction Centre from December 2014 until sometime in 2016 and I was moved to River North Correctional Facility in January 2016 and I was released in early 2017.
I wouldn’t argue that the first step of rehabilitation I went through started at Keen Mountain Correction Centre. This was because of the recreational time given to inmates. It was a level 4 prison and offenders are allowed to come out of their cells in the morning from 9-11 and go back in until 1.30, doors will then be closed at 3.45 for dinner. Sometimes each Pod would go to the cafeteria separately or the food would be brought on the Pod. Doors would be opened for night rec 7.00PM. Each inmate is allowed to own a television, an MP3 player, order books and magazines from bookstores and order commissary. I had the support of my family and by this time, I started to realize the impact of the harm that I have caused to my parents and my family in general and indeed my country Nigeria.
Unlike the Baltimore city experience, I didn’t go witness too many difficult situations in Virginia except for a few gang fights that involved major gang leaders and major prison riots and lockdown periods for security reasons. I was released in July 2017. Immediately I got out of prison, I spoke with my dad over the phone who said calmly to me, son come home. A month later, I was on my way back to Nigeria.
Who are you now, and how have you overcome the past to become who you are now?
Philippians 4: 13: I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.
Spending 5 years and 2 months in prison and moving from one correctional centre , relating with those that have broken the law and understanding criminals was never the way I thought I would live my life as a young child. Before I travelled back to Nigeria, when I was first released from prison, I reflected over my life and I was not happy with how things had turned out. I knew the kind of family I came from. I was ashamed of myself. I had two choices, either staying in the United States or coming back to Nigeria. I knew if I stayed in the US, I wouldn’t get a good job because of my previous convictions; I didn’t want to go back into the life of criminality. Moreover, time would come when I would have issues with immigration authorities because of the convictions which have affected my stay. I decided to come back home after much thought.
During my time in Virginia, I was able to stay away from drugs and alcohol which developed my ability to fight the drug addiction I was suffering from during my incarceration at the Baltimore city detention centre. While, I was in Virginia, I vowed never to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana again.
I arrived Abuja airport in December 2017. I was able to spend Christmas with my family after so many years. Everything seemed like a dream to me. The reality had not kicked in yet until many months later when I started to have episodes and nightmares; sometimes I would stay in my room and would not go out. My social life was limited because I was used to the kind of lifestyle of confinement. I loved my private space and my parents respected it well enough. I am so grateful to the parents that God has given me because they were there throughout my difficulty and they still loved me so much despite the disgrace that I have brought upon the family. In January 2018, I sat with my dad in his library and he talked to me about my future and said he would rather not talk about the past because he cannot imagine what I have been through. I have a brother who is a medical doctor, he is probably my closest brother and he was there throughout my difficult times while incarcerated. They both counselled me and the counselling continued for so long. My dad said I should go and think about what I would like to do; go back to school or manage the family printing business? I took the advice as an opportunity to make things better.
Before, I left Virginia; I knew what I wanted to do when I come out. I promised myself that I would change the world and I would impact the life of those that are disadvantaged. At the time, I always thought that it could be through social justice, such as, improving the education or health system to accommodate children and the poor. In fact, I came up with a name for an NGO while in prison, and wrote more than 100 pages of the structures and the proposal on how the organization will function. I registered the NGO in Nigeria which is now called Advocacy for Support of Community Needs and Development Initiatives. I have always loved to help people. Perhaps, it was one thing that really got me out of trouble and made everyone in prison like me, especially the gang members who saw me as a non threatening individual. When they needed food, I fed them and I talked to them with love. So my time in Baltimore City Detention Centre and the Virginia prison system was at least a period of grace.
So, I started studying Criminology at Colorado State University in 2018. I took 21 credits full time every semester. I knew I only needed 120 credits to graduate so I went for it. I was determined to succeed. I write my exams and tests on the weekends while I was home and there were no distractions from work. I finished my Bachelor of Science in Criminology not up to two years. I enjoyed reading the textbooks and I was very familiar with the field and the topics because of my life experience in criminal behavior and the criminal justice system. It was really easy for me to digest the topics well.
I come from a devout Christian family. Both of my parents are devoted Christians and we pray every morning and every evening. I joined the youth church and of course everyone knows my dad and they have probably heard about the rape case. Some of them are not sure about what happened or whether I was the one who was accused of the rape case in the US. Those that became close to me knew and they treated me with respect, they participated in some of my NGO programs while I also participated in the church programs.
I didn’t overcome my past just yet. But, my relationship with people started to get better as I engaged in church activities, went to work everyday, and attend classes online. I didn’t have time for anything. I was instructed by my dad to be at work by 8.30am every morning. That was the agreement and I did just that. Overcoming my past at this point will be regarded as an exaggeration or an overstatement. The activities I got myself into only made me to forget about the past. At some point, the past will resurface itself, and I would go into episodes- in form of depression or anxiety. I would stay in my room and sometimes cry to myself. I felt really bad about everything.
Then I met God- everything changed. I have always known God but I never really taken religion seriously. A friend of mine who was a leader in the youth church became my counsellor and a very good friend. He opened my eyes in the understanding of God. We would meet in church on Tuesdays and talk about the life of Jesus and we would pray together. Gradually, I started to reason more about the fellowship and about the idea of healing. I was pained from my past based on my experiences in prison, the kind of life that I lived, and the so many mistakes that I have made. My journey with Christ which started through Bible lessons on Tuesdays now became safe haven and the healing that would later on transform my life into what it is today.
My process of healing began with the love I received from my family and the kind of positive activities I got myself involved in, then my achievements, and the inspiration to know God and the process itself involved in understanding who God truly is. It was through these processes that I was able to figure out my purpose in life and the people that I came across who have never known about my past. I was inspired by my past not to talk about it but as a form of motivation that I can do anything through Christ Jesus that strengthens me (Philippians 4. 13). I knew that my experience may have been predestined and that there is nothing I could have been able to do to change the past but I know that I can change my future by impacting the lives of those that are greatly affected by societal injustices.
I ended up getting a job at the National Institute of Police Studies as a part time lecturer. I taught police officers who came for training in criminology subjects at first. I had already completed my masters program and it required a lot of my attention to study my textbooks. I was also running the family printing business which was making enough money at the time to pay school fees yearly which was about US$14,000. I invested in buying consumables for printers in the printing markets across Nigeria. I opened an online printing store called Shopaderet, and customers could now buy consumables and order for printing anything online. The technology worked to an extent and we thrived in the business even during the pandemic. My parents were impressed by my ability to make things happen with nothing. As I pursued my masters program at Grand Canyon University, I learned so much that I was able to transfer knowledge to trainees on crime analysis and restorative justice practices. I chose these two areas as my major focus in criminology and criminal justice so I can make positive impact in life; with victims and offenders.
My masters program enabled me to realize my purpose in line with what God has in plan for me, and I continued to pray about it. Before I finished my master’s degree program, I decided I would like to go and study a PhD program.
I benefited from my incarceration in Virginia in the sense that the period of time I spent in confinement allowed me to appreciate life better, I promised myself never to take any day for granted, that I will live everyday like it is my last and I will change the world in my own way. I guess it was the reason why I came up with the idea of an NGO in prison which is now called Advocacy for Support of Community Needs and Development Initiatives. My academic achievements have made me realize my true purpose so far, I knew I wanted to help people and I wanted to make an impact in the society even though I wanted to introduce social programs like education, health and economic empowerment programs, I believe those objectives are still possible for a specific target population.
What Lessons for Criminal Justice Policy and Practice?
Based on my life experiences, I feel that the society have ignored to a large extent criminal offenders by sending them to prison for the harms that they have caused. The society has paid the least attention in helping to understand the reasons why they have become criminals in the first place. Recidivism rates continue to increase in many criminal justice systems across the world because policy makers ignore the fact that first time offender will probably reoffend if correctional facilities or jails do not have a structure in place that rehabilitates offenders and designing treatment programs on a case by case basis to understand what had caused the individual to commit the crime in the first place. In addition, correctional facilities that house inmates should also be focused on blocking all opportunities for criminal activities in institutions that will further perpetuate criminal behaviors, offenders should have the sense of liberty while incarcerated and should be made to earn the possibility for an early released date. What is more important is the community in which the offender is to return to, and how it should not only prevent reoffending but should focus on healing. The fact is that, criminal offenders who have demonstrated some kind of criminal behavior in the past do not have to come from criminal backgrounds where parents are criminals or live in low income neighbourhoods. Offending behavior can be related to a childhood experience of maltreatment, parental abuse or other dysfunctional forms within the society or at home. There is a need to realize the culpability of children and how it is closely connected to criminal behavior in adulthood.
In my case, my childhood I will admit was simply rough because of so many reasons stated earlier on in which I believe is closely related to the criminal behaviors I demonstrated as a young juvenile and an adult, coupled with peer pressure and the environment I lived in as an adult. The criminal justice system in Maryland further complicated matters when the Baltimore City Detention Centre which has been closed down today by the last mayor of Baltimore city worsened my criminal behavior as I turned into something that I never was, I lost my social identity. As you can see, I reoffended by committing the same patterns of crime and I had my freedom for not more than 3 months until 2017. The Virginia system although not perfect in all sense, rehabilitated me and healing started to take place. The process of healing for me started with the shame that I have caused my family after getting the six years sentence in Virginia. It started because I communicated with my mother almost every day and she was there for me. She did not stigmatise me, she only prayed for me. In this sense, there has to be acceptance from family members and the society to help heal offenders and not send them back into a life of criminality. The healing process continued during my incarceration when I had time to examine my past in safe environment with the proper structures for exercising, and good hygiene and nutrition to maintain my body and mental wellbeing. Most offenders are unable to start the process of healing when and if they are engaged in criminal behavior while incarcerated or have life sentences or have little or no support from family members. In fact, it is impossible to heal for such an offender. Although healing is a slow process during incarceration, but in the process of healing whether during incarceration or post release, the offender must own responsibility, be accountable, and must be engaged in positive activities which will ultimately develop his vision of who he’s destined to be. In addition, the next stage of healing in my experience came after release, the feeling of liberty and the appreciation of life to start all over and to make a difference in the society that have stigmatised and ignored me. During this process, I was faced with the determination that I will overcome every obstacle and I knew that the right decision for me was to go back home to my family. There are always challenges throughout the process of healing during each step depending on the circumstances of the individual. This is why it is important for offenders to have counsellors during incarceration and post incarceration until the healing process is complete. This is because particular decisions have to be made and if the wrong decisions are made, it may send an individual back into the life of criminality, suicide, or further disappointments. The healing step during post release starts with the acceptance of the community, responsibility of the convict, and a determination to stay away from the life of crime. In the community, there has to be a capable guardian within the household of the individual, such that will block any opportunities of crime and will help develop a vision and a 5 year success plan that the individual must follow through. In societies where probation and parole are social systems that are meant to prevent the individual from reoffending, there must also be family member who will play the role of a capable guardian to ensure that an individual complies with rules and regulations. I believe that probation system are insufficient to prevent an ex convict from reoffending, because the probation officers are only meant to chastise an individual and put fear in their hearts about going back to prison. Although, it helps the offender to become responsible to an extent in ensuring that he/she is employed and meeting the guidelines of parole. I believe that parole systems must be supported by an inner circle guardian such as a family member who is willing to be responsible for the offender as a mentor and to watch over him day and night. Such a mentor must be a responsible member of the family that an individual respects and look up to. In my own case, my dad and mum played that role. They were both there to support me and to guide me through decisions relating to academic pursuits, employment opportunity, and my religious life. Also, there has to be consistency in these three areas and it has to be specific objectives developed out of the initial vision the ex convict has and a time frame of five years to achieve that vision must be realized through the efforts the efforts of social systems such as family members and parole and probation authorities.
Making Positive Social Impacts in Post Conviction
My Dad made me write a vision with a set of goals and objectives that I will follow for the next five years.
My vision was that when I got out “ I will change the world in my own way through impacting knowledge about my experience in the criminal justice system in Nigeria and across the world by helping individuals that have committed crime understand the impact of their actions and to change their ways. And obtaining knowledge to do so through academic achievements to the highest level and contributing to the society through social and intellectual change that will change the situations of all those that have been oppressed by the system.
The objectives I developed on January 23rd 2018 inside of my dad’s study were as follows;
1. To achieve a BSc degree in criminology through a US university within the first two years and obtain knowledge about criminal behavior and theories of crime to assist me in my lifelong academic work.
2. To obtain a masters degree in criminology and further my pursuit in the understanding of how and why criminals tend to offend and to develop ways to prevent this offending behavior so the society can be a safe place for all.
3. To obtain a PhD in the area of criminology and to help develop the field with knowledge and experience of criminal behavior and how to prevent and reduce them in the society.
4. To be employed in the criminal justice system and contribute to the development of change that will meet the needs of offenders, victims and the society at large.
5. To participate in social activities relating to the development of the society in key sectors such as education, health, economic empowerment, particularly transportation.
6. To invest in the printing market by offering customers the cheapest and the most convenient way of printing services.
7. To be a devoted church member of the Methodist Cathedral youth church and assist in community service , weekly church meetings and other aspects of propagating the word of God to the people around me and those that I come into contact with.
The night I sat down in the study with my dad, he made me develop a vision and objectives for myself that will form my activities for the next 5 years. So it happened that everything that I did since 2018 came out of the aforementioned objectives and vision. It was the road map to my daily, weekly, and monthly activities. My dad helps in measuring the outcomes of the success of these activities monthly.
I have completed my Bachelors, Masters, and I am now pursuing a PhD admission based on this vision. I have participated in church activities, and I have been a devoted member of the church in different ways. I am now the vice president of the youth church.
In 2019, I won a printing contract for N10 million and I invested it into the transport industry by purchasing 5 vehicles to be used for Uber and Bolt. Although the business didn’t pay much, I realized that I wanted to go into building my own App. I came up with strategies to do so. I travelled to Ukraine to make an App, the Ukrainians did their best, but unfortunately I was left with an almost finished app because I ran out of money.
The unfinished project enabled me to realize that even if I brought a transport App to compete with Bolt and Uber in Nigeria, in other to be able to compete and own a market share, it will be a long term project which involves social justice for drivers. This was because at the time that I managed the Taxi service business, I saw that drivers who were driving on Bolt and Uber were mostly oppressed by car owners, government policies, and App companies, and this was due to the fact that there were no laws in the system that regulated the industry because it was a new innovation and Nigerians as well as many other nations have just bought into the idea.
This prompted my decision to register Transportation Technology Drivers Association (TTDA) which was centred on the social justice for drivers’ perspective and focused on meeting the neglected needs of drivers in the industry. These needs involve security needs of drivers, the fact that drivers are regarded as partners but treated as employees, so they are not allowed make decisions along side with app companies such as Bolt and Uber. Some of those decisions also relate to commission fees being charged to drivers on the app, health insurance and car insurance policy.
Today, based on the perspective of social justice for drivers, TTDA is leading a cluster of association across Nigeria towards unionization of Uber and Bolt drivers in Nigeria. The project is called National Coalition of Ride Sharing Partners (NACORP). There are more than 10,000 drivers under the umbrella with structures in at least 11 states. I am the National Coordinator of this project.
I have to say that the prison experience gave me wisdom on how to deal with people, especially those that have been oppressed. This project is still ongoing and the coalition has a vision to become a union in two years through strategic activities.
I made it a point to change the world in the best way I can and I am doing just that every day.
This is how I have been able to overcome the past. It’s an on-going process that is never finished until the complete actualization of my vision and purpose in life which will then bring about a complete healing, a satisfaction that is beyond people’s expectations and an acknowledgement of the fact that healing is an ongoing process that starts with accountability and responsibility of an offender during incarceration and the achievement on one’s purpose post conviction.
Any final comments?
The life of an offending individual is a mystery that in most cases he himself is in delusion that everything he has done is in fact right and that the society is wrong. They do not know in most cases that what they have done was in fact wrong and correcting their ways through the system involves not rehabilitation and treatments but the true actualization of purpose and the vision of who they are destined to be. Rehabilitation and treatments are integral components of healing but more important is who are you and who do you want to become, and how can you impact and change the world in the best way that you can.
My journey so far is continuous and it is ongoing, no one understands me. They always think because I have wronged the society in the past, perhaps that’s why I try so hard to impress people and do so much. It is difficult for someone who hasn’t been through what I have been through to understand. I have seen Men who have given up their lives and will never make it out of prison. Their hopes are gone and they are looking for miracles just because of one mistake they made, either as an adult or even a juvenile.
I believe that incarceration is good for certain offenses and incarceration may actually start the process of healing for an individual who is irreparable. However, it must be “true incarceration” and the number of years must commensurate to the level of rehabilitation, treatment, that is in line with the perspective of restorative justice (From my perspective, I mean a time focused on healing the wounds of the victims, offenders and the community); the process must recommend the release date to the court, and not the court recommending the release date to the victim or the offender. True incarceration should also envision the lifestyle an individual would live when released and his vision of who he wants to be must be clear. Counsellors in institutional treatment programs must have the understanding of the healing process involved during the incarceration of an offender, and must be ready to assist in the development of a healing process post release that is based on a case by case basis. Without this perspective and this knowledge, it is impossible to define healing in its true concept, and probably will produce a reoffender with new schemes and techniques of crime, or perhaps a much violent offender who would rather be behind the walls.
This true life interview with the permission of Ademola (the interviewee) is to help us understand the sociology and psychology of criminal and delinquent behaviour of young offenders; and to show that desistance is possible. This interview highlights that young offenders can and do change, especially over the course of many years as they grow up. They often desist from life of crime; and community and social interventions are very helpful in this; hence we advocate for restorative justice in juvenile delinquency.
With this true life story, desistance and change is possible because nothing changes in an offender unless and until something changes within him.