It was a sunny day in Bandung when a group of boys were playing football in the field. Everything looked very normal until the football session was over and they had to go back to their rooms, behind bars.
They hopped onto their bunk beds and called it a day, with 16 children sleeping together in one room.
This is not a story about the lives behind bars, but this is a story about how children in prison are coming in freedom to get back into the society, once released from their detentions.
In LPKA Bandung (Lembaga Pembinaan Khusus Anak Kelas II Bandung), there are at least 120 boys who are imprisoned, with most cases of tawuran (a form of customary mass street fighting between gangs of particular school-related students in urban Indonesia) and consensual sexual intercourse with their former partners. With the Law on the Child Criminal in Indonesia stated, any individual under 18 years old is considered as a child, and therefore should be put in children prison if they commit a crime. While this law sounds clear enough, but it mainly mentions about the proceedings of the children in prison. So far, there isn’t any official regulation that supports and helps the children to go back into their ‘ordinary’ lives once released from the prison.
And this is where Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation plays a role.
Founded in April 2018 by Jorge & Caron Marquez, Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation is a transition home that helps young ex-offenders to get back in society. For them, coming outside the prison costs a heavy psychological and emotional changes, therefore they need help to transition. Many of these boys are afraid to get rejected by their families and communities; and that’s why, this foundation provides them food and shelter, as well as educational programs that teach them life skills that would be beneficial to get a job.
With vision to transform ex-offender become self-sufficient and moral citizen, Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation provides a safe home for these children to experience love, hope and freedom while empowering them with education and life skills for a better future.
Creating A Free and Safe Future for Young Ex-Offenders
Working as a football coach in children prison, Jorge and his team were very concerned about the children’s condition after getting released. Many of them have reported ongoing through mental and financial struggles once they get back into society. As they got along with the children pretty well, Jorge and his team noticed that these children actually have high motivation to learn and study. Thus, Jorge and his team decided to build this foundation by collecting donations and support from their friends.
Due to moderate financial supports, Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation are only able to provide a space for limited numbers of children. Once they join the program, they have to sign a contract that ensures them to follow all the rules and programs for a full year. One of the programs is to teach them various beneficial life skills that would help them to get a job. With the help of many friends, the foundation could also connect these children to apply for jobs in some café or hotels in Bandung. For example, two alumni of the foundation have got a stable job in one café and one hotel in Bandung that provide them financial stability.
Aside from that, Jorge and his team also teach English language to these children, as this skill is highly necessary in real-life work and thus would help them to get a job easier. Although learning English in a year is not an easy task, but these young ex-offenders are so motivated and well-driven in their classes.
Not only providing educational programs, Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation also maintained a mentoring session that focuses on the psychological needs of these children. By doing this, Jorge and his team hope that these children would be able to improve their mental well-being so that they would feel safe again in the society.
After finishing all the programs, Jorge mentioned there are a lot of improvements and transformations on these children’s attitudes. They become wiser and have extensive knowledge on how to manage a financial security well. Slowly but sure, these children began to build their confidence and see the light in a better future.
The Longing of Freedom
The lives behind the bars is different between adult prisons and children prisons. In children's prisons, there are actually various activities starting from scout, cooking class, to sports activities. The children also get to finish their schools by taking Ujian Nasional (National Exam) outside accompanied by their guards.
While adult prisons might be prone to violence and brutality, children prison is more of like a rehabilitation centre rather than a jail. These children are constantly taught that they still have a long future ahead of them, therefore building their motivation and willingness to always learn and transform into better individuals. They also acknowledge their past mistakes and learn from it to become more mature.
However, though the prison is filled with such positivity, these children still long and yearn for freedom. It is very much visible in their happy faces every time they have a chance to go outside.
“We send these talented boys to a football competition outside every once in a while. As their coaches, we accompany them, and we see how the outside world brings them joy and happiness so much—even though it only lasts for a few hours. After all, they crave for freedom, ``
Living in prison has inevitably affected their mental health. Some of the children even experience worse psychological damage due to the lack of support from their own parents. Even though some parents cannot regularly come due to the distance, other parents have never shown up at all since their children were captured in prisons.
Unfortunately, there has never been any official psychological support from the government or ministry to help these children. It is either educational or private institution who take care of these children’s mental health regularly through visits and mentoring sessions. This truth shows how these children are ‘invisible’ in the government’s eyes, even though they are young generation who will be the future seeds of the country.
The team sincerely wish all people to take a look on this issue and to help make an action by becoming a volunteer, or just simply visiting them. Because the children are disconnected from the outside world, they would be more than happy to welcome all visitors. They also hope that Free and Safe Indonesia Foundation could spread its wings even more to any other cities outside Bandung. Lastly, he deeply wishes that all young offenders would be more optimistic about their long future ahead.
“Whenever I spend time with these children, I always tell them that I am just the same as them. We are not perfect and we make a lot of mistakes. The only difference is that I wasn’t captured in jail—but that doesn’t mean they are less than me. We are still humans, we are still the same. They have a long road ahead, but I believe they can fulfil their hopes if they work hard on it”.