Richard Ngomo’s Story
My family wanted to protect me – they couldn’t believe that I could participate in such a crime involving armed robbery and murder. I had lost the morals, values and ethics that I had been brought up with. I was different from the rest of my family. Although they gave me all the support they could, they were desperately disappointed. I had got myself into this situation and just couldn’t understand why. Even today I wonder why I got involved in something as terrible as what I did.
My family was very good. I was brought up with love and kindness – my grandmother was everything to us – she taught us great values, responsibility, home chores. At home I was the most hardworking kid, from cleaning, fetching water, doing repairs in the home but the influence from my friends was bad.
Our home was made out of mud, very colourful with a beautiful stoep in front with flowers. When you walked out of the kitchen there was a lot of space. I grew up in a beautiful and clean environment, you could smell the flowers outside. I was brought up with good things and therefore very disappointed in myself that I turned out to be an animal. It breaks my heart!
When my Mom got sick when I was 9 years old, I was the eldest at home. My elder brothers were working away and I had to ensure she got the right tablets according to the doctor’s prescription. I was very close to my grandmother.
It was March 2009. I was feeling down and wanted something that would make me feel good to lift my spirits and joined a group of guys who were ‘my friends’, we were friends for three years. I told them “there’s a guy I used to work for who lives on a farm, let’s see what we can do there”. We intended to steal a car and sell it. We took a taxi to town and then walked into the rural area, 36 kilometres from Phola in Ogies. It was late in the evening and I felt invincible and courageous. We had bought some alcohol to make us feel confident about what we were going to do. We arrived at the farm which was far away from the town and neighbours at about 9pm. Mr Boshoff, if my memory serves me well. I knew he was staying alone, he worked very hard and didn’t have a wife. We waited for an hour for him to fall asleep and at about 10pm we broke into his house. I showed ‘my friends’ which door to break into. I couldn’t go first because I knew he would recognise me. They broke in and went into the main bedroom and they grabbed Mr Boshoff while he was asleep and tied him up. I took the keys of the bakkie so once they were done with the stealing I would start the bakkie in preparation for our escape.
They demanded the safe keys and took money, firearms and his TV. We drove off but as we approached the township where we stayed, the bakkie ran out of petrol. We left the TV and took the money and firearms. I locked the bakkie and left the keys inside on the highway and we walked back into the township. At this stage I was so frightened and scared as it was my first crime. We shared the money which was about R300 each and left. I never took the firearm, one of my friends took it because I would have been questioned at home about where I had got it.
Over the weekend I went back to the farm to hear if there were rumours of people talking about the white farmer being robbed and his car stolen. I heard when I got there that Mr Boshoff had been robbed by some young people. At home they asked if I knew anything about it but I said I knew nothing, I had nothing to do with it. “I live here in this township how could you expect me to know what was happening on the farm?” I asked them. I felt bad, even today when I see the route that led to Mr Boshoff’s house I feel so bad.
When I went back to the township I found out from my friends they had used the firearm to try and rob another black guy in the community. I’m not sure what happened but they shot him and he died which made me worry about the firearm. It wasn’t a big deal because when living the life of a criminal you convince yourself that it is part of the journey if somebody gets shot, but of course this should never be the case.
We then planned another robbery on another farm. One of my co-accused came up with a plan – a lot of money. I had a good relationship with a lady in my community. I used to look after her children while she was selling food in the community and I drove her car to buy stock for her. I asked her to lend me her car so I could help guys to pick up my friends. It was a lie of course because the car was being used to drive us to robe somebody.
We arrived at another farm at about 10 o’clock in the evening. My friends jumped the fence and broke into the house while I waited in the car but I did try to help them get into the farmhouse. It was an old looking house with old brown paint. I remember I hurt myself trying to open the window for them to get in and cut my hand in the process. The farmer tried to shoot all of us. My friend who had the firearm then shot the farmer. I heard the sounds of the gun and went back to check but the farmer was losing a lot of blood. They took the money, TV, plenty of jewellery and we drove away. They also took his firearm that he tried to shoot us with.
Over the weekend I had to go home to see my grandmother so I gave my friends my share to keep for when I came back. When I came back on the Monday the Armed Robbery team arrested two of my friends. They had to confess to them that they were with us. I ran away because I knew the police were looking for us but they arrested me at home which had an impact on my grandmother and my sister.
Now my life has changed. I realised those were very serious things. The white man passed on because he lost a lot of blood which was a very, very serious case. From that day I started to look differently and started to feel bitter. I felt so bad about myself I didn’t want to eat. I lost myself the values I was brought up with and I looked at myself differently.
We were thrown into prison which was bad. After a year the case was still continuing, they denied bail and I tried to commit suicide. I drank polish, candles and cleaning materials. I felt so bad about everything, I couldn’t believe I had committed crimes and somebody had just died as a result. I wanted to kill myself not because I was scared of prison.
My lifestyle was too high, drugs, alcohol and gangsterism. It’s all about peer pressure, you wanted to impress them, to belong to their gang which lead to your being involved in crime. The lack of a good father-figure significantly contributed towards this when I was growing up. With a gang you feel stronger and accepted. When I was arrested I realised this was all wrong, but it was too late. All I wanted to do was die!
When I was arrested I was in a state of hopelessness. It was a very scary dark time. In a police station it is very different to a prison – it’s very dirty, the blankets smell horrible and I got chicken pox as a result of staying in the dirt. Those are times I would like to forget about. Sitting in a dark corner given food out of a wheel cap of a car, served with dirty water. You don’t get exercise. In winter you try to get sun but there is none, it is cold, locked up all day. I was in there for two months.
The kids back home would tease us. They’d say, “Those are the ones who killed the white farmer”. The values that I was brought up with were so great. I was participating in activities in school. Many of my class mates and friends lost faith in me and said that they wouldn’t be led by a person who commits crime. I felt bad and started to feel the stigma attached to me. The case was still pending. I thought I could handle the pressure but in the end it ate away at my soul and again I tried to commit suicide by mixing benzene, petrol and acid from an old battery that I drank with tablets. Somebody found me and took me to the clinic.
I was sentenced on 22 October 2001 at the age of 17 years, for 18 years in prison. Everything about the case stressed me; I didn’t know what my fate was. It took very long to finalise the case; I lost weight and I almost lost my mind because it was so stressful. It was painful to be sentenced for so long but the judge was very kind to us because he felt that we were too young to commit the crime. I was sentenced at Delmas High Court. It broke my family’s heart but they supported me.
I was sad but at the same time I was happy that the waiting was over. I had to face the consequences. My co-accused were all sentenced with me for 18 years.
About three months into my sentence, I tried to adapt and understand what the green uniform means. I was then transferred to Medium C. There is one thing that was always in my heart that I would study during my sentence. The day I walked out the door, I wanted to come out a better person. That was my only hope as I went through all the difficulties.
I asked the social worker what they were going to do with the young people who were sentenced. She said that Correctional Services were trying a new concept with Khulisa and young people would have to apply to be trained as peer educators, to train another inmate or help another inmate deal with coping mechanisms. I said that I would apply. I was asked to write an essay to tell them about myself; who I was, where I grew up, how I ended up in prison, sharing my crime. After a week they said I was one of 15 inmates chosen from about 200 inmates that had applied.
They told me to pack my stuff for a special care unit where you stay individually which gave me more time to think about my life.
The first time I saw Les and her colleagues, I remember that it was very, very cold. Mrs Kruger was leading the pack, followed by Mr Nieuwenhuis, Lesley Ann, Simon and Ben, two ex-offenders working for Khulisa.
It was the first time since my arrest that I had seen people wearing private clothes. I had got so used to the brown, orange and red tracksuits of the young juveniles. We were called into the courtyard and Lesley Ann introduced herself and explained how the programme started in 1997. Ben and Simon had participated in the programme while they were in prison. That gave me hope and a sense of responsibility. I started looking at myself differently. The feeling of going back to school was resurrected. I told myself that I was going to create an opportunity with every person, with both hands, to do something with their lives.
Amongst the inmates was William Prinsloo.
We were trained for eight months on public speaking, taught how to facilitate programmes, presentation skills, HIV/Aids awareness, substance abuse. 3 December 2002 was our graduation day and we got about five certificates: for creative writing, public speaking, journalism etc. Our values were restored through the programme training.
Khulisa was helping with a victim offender mediation programme that we all participated in. The aim was to share and make amends with our victims and their families – to ask for forgiveness which was an important part of our rehabilitation process. We also did workshops with our families. Unfortunately the wife of my victim couldn’t be found but I was told by the Khulisa social worker that she had managed to visit the daughter of the deceased who was very angry and upset that Khulisa had come to visit her. She told them that she didn’t want anything to do with us and that she wished we would ‘rot in hell’ and that we should stay in prison for the rest of our lives. I was so sad when I heard that. I then realised how wrong we were and wanted so badly to correct the situation but knew that this would be futile. She had bluntly refused to see me. To me, to this day, this is very, very sad. I wish with all my heart that I had been given an opportunity to explain what was going through our minds at that time when we committed the crime.
My Granny did however come to see me for the first time in 2005 during the time when Khulisa was doing the Restorative Justice programme. I cried bitterly when I saw her. Although she was heartbroken that I had committed the crime she came to understand why we were involved in murdering somebody and to see for herself if I really was remorseful. For me, that was very key because her support was strong. It was very difficult for my family to understand the motive behind the crime but because Khulisa was there to ask questions and to probe what had happened, understanding came. Through participating in the programmes, we understood that there were a number of factors that contributed. It was peer pressure, substance abuse, lack of positive role models, etc.
We continued with the programme facilitation of substance abuse and drug awareness. We had a vision that we wanted to have the entire correctional centre as a drug-free section. Through Khulisa’s support, we managed to achieve those results. Some rehab centres were formulated. The correctional facility won the award for the best correctional facility because they heard about the success stories.
My dream came alive and I was driven by it. From then on I surpassed all the challenges. Khulisa bought me books. The following year I told Lesley Ann that I wanted to do my B.Com Law. At that time I was at Zonderwater Prison and she sent me a letter telling me that she had got sponsorship. I studied my first year and I passed. In Zonderwater I changed a lot of lives and never looked back.
After being involved in all the activities from 2002, I got a call in 2008 to see the parole board for the first time. Lesley Ann wrote a letter to recommend me for employment in case I got released. She was always involved with me and that letter for the parole board meant everything to me. The parole board was so strict because most of us were serving long sentences and they would never consider an offender for placement in the community on their first appeal.
They told me that they knew about everything I did for the prison community since 2002; I didn’t have to say anything to prove myself. “On 11 November 2009 you will be released and will go home”, they said. But they had a question that they wanted me to answer. “What has made you so different from the rest of the offenders?” I told them it was because of Khulisa and that I had to set an example. This is a big success story and I’ll never be shy to share it no matter what.
The day of 11 November arrived. The morning of my release I didn’t want to eat anything, I was just waiting to see the outside world. It was a Wednesday and usually on Wednesdays, the prisoners would start with their prayer meetings. I was waiting from 07:30 so that I could go home. They then called me and opened the big gates. The sun was shining. It was different from the sun that I had seen for so many years. This was the sun that shone for the whole day.
The Correctional officials drove me home to make sure that I had given them the correct address. The social worker had given me a lot of sweets and chocolates from the social work section because of the help I had given them. They were so happy for me and the long way I had come since my original arrest. I had participated constructively in all the activities. I had given it my all. I would write letters on behalf of other inmates. I would help the social workers, I would dedicate all my time to uplifting those around me – making a difference was all that I cared about.
My whole family was waiting for me when I arrived home. At that stage they had moved into Leandra which made a big difference when it came to reintegrating. It is through the Grace of God that I didn’t go back to the same township because there is always a risk that your former friends come and get you – they test you and test you to see if you’re strong enough to withstand the temptations and challenges.
The following Monday Lesley Ann called me to offer me employment and that I must go to the Witbank office. It was great to see the people who prepared the programmes that impacted so much in our lives.
We had to do something for the community at Khulisa Witbank and I chose my school because when I left, they were heartbroken and I wanted them to see me. It was so touching – the teachers were so pleased to see me. I didn’t even know how to address the children but the teachers asked me to tell them what happened and why I went to prison. I realised that day how powerful my story is and the impact is had to change lives.
I would like to write a book. I want to define the difference between prison life and real life. In prison you imagine things and you can only hope of thinking that it’s going to be alright for you but, on the outside, it’s different; it’s the reality.
I was committed to doing everything and I started to understand how Khulisa worked in terms of funding to work in the community. To me, Diversion is a key programme. I had to familiarise myself with the MIB programme. It wasn’t without challenges because I had to go to initiation school, which caused a dispute between me and the company. As a result I had to apply for two months unpaid leave. When I returned there was fortunately an opportunity with NYDA. I was given a three month contract and at the end of the contract, I was reinstated as Stakeholder Engagement Officer.
The major message I want to pass on, for me, is that people need to be resilient. In life, there are a number of challenges and people need to be strong enough to withstand those challenges and never give up. When they’re faced with bad challenges, they don’t have to revert into something negative; they must look beyond the challenges. There were times when I wanted to give up and commit suicide. It could have been so easy for me to give up.
More than anything else, we also need good role models. I say it over and over again, if it wasn’t for Khulisa’s support, I wouldn’t have made it. I would never have made it to Johannesburg and Witbank if somebody hadn’t given me direction. You need organisations such as Khulisa to instil values and to reassure us that whatever we’re going through, we need to have systems in place to prevent consequences of participating in negative activities.
I will never get tired of encouraging young people. I have a story to share and I’m prepared to share it. It’s not about me but it’s about the message to say, no matter what, if you are facing challenges, this is the way to go about it. If there’s a problem way beyond your thinking, we’ve got some psychologists and social workers and counsellors. It also makes such a difference to journal all your feelings. It gives you peace. I didn’t realise what peace I would get through sharing my thoughts in a diary. It was the most powerful therapeutic lesson.
One of the songs that inspired me (out of my diary):
When I’m down and my soul is so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
And I’m still and waiting here, inside, until you came and sat awhile with me
You raised me up so I can stand on mountains
You raised me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raised me up to be more than I can be
—- Josh Groban
I dedicate this song to Lesley because of the times she spent with me. You were like an angel.
Questions posed to Richard
Why do so many offenders relapse?
Many offenders relapse or go back to crime because they don’t get the necessary support from their families, the community and due to lack of opportunities for employment; plus the basic support one needs to get from the community, a community representative of pastors. They get stigmatised as a result and see themselves excluded from the community. The only way they can survive is to go back to crime. These are my personal reasons, based on my personal experience.
What were my challenges when I came back to the community after being released from prison?
For me, it wasn’t really a big challenge going back to the community because my family was taken to a pre-release programme with Khulisa, who prepared them before I came. They participated throughout my prison programme and they were supportive. So, from the family side, I didn’t have a problem. From the community, luckily for me my family relocated to Leandra so when I came back after eight years and nine months, we were staying in a different community who didn’t know much about me. That gave me more time to plan. Also, Khulisa called me and offered me an opportunity to start as a volunteer. They took me through some integrated tests. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. For me, it wasn’t really a challenge to go back to the community because I was employed and I had studied.
I would say that the preparations I went through to be integrated through social workers and Khulisa, I didn’t have a problem. I still go to the Community Corrections to sign once a month. My parole conditions changed through getting employment with Khulisa, which helped me a lot and I’m very grateful for that opportunity. It was through Khulisa’s programmes that my parole conditions had to be changed to suit my situation at work. I’m only signing once per month in Evander and they don’t come to my work.
It seems to be a challenge for other inmates but, for me, it wasn’t a challenge, hence I comply with my parole conditions.
My message that I want to send out with all my personal experience that I’ve shared in this book
To the families out there, all I can say is that for them to prevent this kind of situation where I found myself in prison at a tender age, they need to play a very pivotal role in supporting their children, whether it be from primary school, high school (especially) because that’s where they get to see other teenagers then their behaviour can change. It’s easy for them to be tempted because, for me, it only took me two crime scenes to end up in prison and serving 18 years. For them, they are lucky because they have such things as Khulisa, where they can attend if there is a behavioural problem in the child. They can take them to Khulisa, take them through programmes, do life skills, help them with substance abuse, etc. All those strategies are in place and they must be utilised fully by family members – take advantage of the opportunities.
If I had an opportunity that Khulisa had presented to the communities out there, I don’t think that I would have ended up in prison. My message to the families out there is that they need to be very supportive of their children and whatever sport activities, education, they are going through.
What is the message to the offenders?
All I am saying is that now they are in prison already, the only time they can turn their lives around, no matter how long they are sentenced, as long as there is an opportunity in prison that you can wake up and attend the course and life skills programmes and social workers, see psychologists, go to vocational training, study through distance learning like UNISA; there are other institutions that can support you. They can apply and start in prison. They can take the opportunity whilst they’re in prison to make the most of their lives; take time for introspection; take command of your thoughts; to set some goals; look at your life line; look at what mistakes you made and how you can rectify them. That’s an opportunity to do it.
You shouldn’t see prison as a place where your rights are taken away. You need to think of how you can rectify it. You can take the place and turn it into a rehab centre; serve the purpose for which you were sent there, which is to restore your good values; to rehabilitate yourself; to restore what you’ve lost; to participate in good programmes; to play a good role and set a good example for many offenders out there. Also for people to see that this person has changed. Start with you! The first person to benefit from it must be yourself, not for trying to impress the parole board or management committee. You must do it for yourself so that you will be well rehabilitated from within (internally).
My message to the offenders is that when you are there, take each and every opportunity that comes your way and then you’ll be a better person. The future will be bright from the inside.
My message to the community
To avoid all the issues of recidivism that offenders relapse into crime give support to young children, the youth out there and to ex-offenders being released from prison.
My message is that the community serves to play a role in participating as a stakeholder with other stakeholders in the rehabilitation or in the reintegration of offenders. We have leaders in the community, whether traditional leaders and other leaders from various institutions. Ask them to come with a collaborative approach in receiving offenders, in helping a child that is in conflict with the law, to send them to Khulisa, to refer them to social workers, to refer them to church, to refer them to spiritual leaders such as pastors and other organisations that offer spiritual assistance, to help a young person that is going through some substance abuse challenges; to help to rehabilitate the child; to refer him to the rehabilitation centre.
If all the community members from all the local stakeholders could play a role in helping to raise a child in the community, that would prevent all the challenges that the young people are facing today, such as substance abuse, HIV/Aids, crime, unemployment. If we could work together as a community, that would help a lot in preventing all the challenges.
If one family has a well behaved child, a child that is well supported, it means that the whole street will have good children. Then the entire section will have great children; the whole community and the whole of society will have wonderful youths that will lead us in the near future.
My message to the community is, let us support and not stigmatise. Let us not judge. We need to help the children. They are going through the times that we are living in and there is no way you can leave the situation as it is. We need your contribution as parents, community members and leaders. Please participate in the right decision programme. Participate in raising our children in the community so that they can be better leaders tomorrow.
PROGRAMMES THAT RICHARD PARTICIPATED IN
HIV/AIDS Peer Education
Peer educators provide beneficiary groups in community, correctional and school settings with vital knowledge, to equip them to make informed decisions about sexual behaviour and HIV/Aids testing and counselling.
The HIV/AIDS Peer Education Programme trains peer educators – the most effective advocates for attitude and behaviour change – to teach HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Working with prison social workers or with teachers or nurses in their communities, graduates of this training play an active role in developing and presenting HIV/AIDS workshops. The result is greater awareness and support in institutions and more responsible behaviour amongst high risk populations.
This programme focuses on abuse of legal prescription drugs and alcohol through a peer education methodology.
“Drug Smart” teaches participants to physically identify illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia, and to recognise when legal and over the counter drugs are being abused. It also allows participants to identify warning signs and understand the process of addiction. The “Drug Smart” method is based on a peer education approach, which trains individuals to educate their peers using the knowledge they have gained. Peer educators therefore create an atmosphere of openness, honesty and willingness, and with these principles in place a learning environment conducive to individual change is created.
2002 – Drug and HIV AIDS Peer Education programme piloted in Johannesburg Juvenile Maximum Prison. This led to the establishment of the SA’s first Drug Free section with master trainers rolling our drug awareness and support programmes to over 2,000 offenders within the first 2 years. Over 20.000 school going children visit the prison to engage with offenders and part of drug awareness programme within a 2-year period.
The programme over the next eight years was extended to 60 prisons training Correctional staff and offenders in HIV AIDS and peer education reaching a total of 322 juvenile and youth offenders in 20 correctional facilities across the country between May 2002 and July 2006; as well as 265 DCS staff in various correctional centers in Gauteng, KwaZulu – Natal and North West Provinces. UNODC report (2010) reported that 134 Peer educators were trained reaching a total of over 3400 offenders within the 4 Correctional centers in Gauteng, 1321 offenders in 4 Correctional Centers in KZN and 1,042 offenders in the 4 Western Cape Correctional Centres.
The programme was subsequently rewritten for the UNODC and has been rolled out by medical professionals to correctional centres in 24 SADAC countries.