Back2life Rio Cobre mentors at the Rio Cobre Correctional Centre
Back2Life Rio Cobre Project, spearheaded by chairman and project manager at Nicholas Phillips attorneys-at-law, Lorna Phillips, is giving the young men from the Rio Cobre Correctional Centre a second chance through its new mentorship programme.
The programme was launched in July 2012 and started operation in October of that year. It currently consists of more than 40 trained mentors - with approximately 25 mentors visiting the facilities biweekly. Phillips noted that the basis of the group is to reshape the boys, highlighting their core values through different activities.
"Interim competitions, fun activities, and visits from guests help to 'normalise' their experiences as children and extend the possibilities they can imagine for their lives," Phillips said. The juveniles are between 13 and 17 years old.
One of the mentors, Sheldon Wilson, told Outlook that, as a child growing up, he never had a male figure in his life, so he had to find various role models who were passionate about succeeding and were selfless in their support of others. "I have come to the realisation that while many young men out there may be facing what I faced as a teenager, not many have the resilience or motivation to rise above their challenges like I did, and may need someone to help them realise that most of life's answers are within us. All that we need is just the right attitude," he told Outlook.
After learning about the Back2life project through a colleague during his final year at The Mico University College, Wilson joined the team. "I want to be one of those agents to help a young brother achieve his goals. Serving others, especially those in dire need, I see as a civil duty," he added.
Another mentor, Stewart Dawkins, also sees the project as his way of dedicating his time and service giving back to his country. "Helping others is a part of who I am, so when the opportunity presented itself, I thought that this was a great avenue to share my time with someone who is less fortunate than I am," he told Outlook. His involvement over the past two years has also shaped his personal development. "Back2life, in my opinion, was the platform I needed to help shape and mould my personal development as a man, and understand what it really means to be a man," he added.
Phillips explains that the project is funded mainly through solicitation from corporate companies whether in cash or kind. Which include free transportation to and from the centre by Galaxy Tours, free lunches courtesy of KFC, and free training from professionals. Dawkins added that some of their efforts have not reaped much investment, but they remain resolute as relates to their cause and welcome any future opportunity to partner with any company desirous of aiding our cause.
Phillips notes that the larger aspect of the project is public awareness. "We have held several public events for the purpose of raising the debate on boy/man issues.
It's a programme that is beneficial to all parties involved. Patrick Newman, who is now a mentor, was a correctional officer at the facility for 10 years. He noted that while there many of the officers were fearful that they were going to be made redundant because there were more staff than boys. After leaving in 1996, Newman said he went to visit the facility in 2011, and was shocked at how the population had grown. "I immediately considered how I could be a part of an organisation to assist these boys, who as far as I am concerned, were victims of circumstances. So when I heard about Back2Life Rio Cobre Project, I got involved, got trained and it has being a fulfilling experience for me, spending time with my two mentees," he told Outlook. He adds that the only thing that is greater than seeing a smile on a child's face is knowing that he put it there. "Back2Life Foundation is here as a beacon of hope to assist our boys to change their course and be positive and worthwhile citizen of our country Jamaica, Land we Love," Newman shared.
Wilson said that being a part of this project has honed his counselling skills, making his purpose in life more defined. "I'm more tolerant, I get to impact someone's life in the way I wanted someone to impact mine as a teenager growing up, and most important, as a patriot, I get the awesome opportunity to contribute to build a better Jamaica just by playing my little part in a positive and impactful way through my commitment to the mission and vision of Back2Life," he added.
Dawkins also noted that the training received is like no other. He is allowed to share his ideas of how he views himself and how he can't change a person by simply helping them on their journey. "There are many intrinsic values to be had. That is the feeling of knowing that you are moulding a child into a man, and earning their respect, trust, and friendship. This is indeed a priceless gift that one receives," he noted.
Most of the detainees at the facilities have committed crimes such as larceny and wounding, and are sent there through correctional orders from the court. Phillips notes that, most times, behind these offences, lies neglect, abuse, poor parenting, and the absence of fathers or positive male role models.
Past mentee Richard Jones* said that the programme has changed his life. He tells Outlook, "I learnt how to express myself as well as how to be compassionate to others." He told Outlook that he had a tumultuous relationship with his father as the driving force for him ending up in the correctional centre at the age of 16.
He noted that being in the facility was rough, but the recreational activities helped him to make it through the tough times. Jones said that he took with him some valuable lessons that he is now using, "That I should have long- and short-term goals and work towards them. That I should never give up no matter what because life is not easy and nothing comes easy," he added. Jones now implores fathers to "build a relationship with your sons and young men in general. Youths should also encourage each other telling them what are the consequences of going down the wrong path", Jones concluded.
*Name change to protect privacy