Last week while staying in the Soweto township, I had the privilege of touring one of Bosasa’s Youth Development Centers (a facility for incarcerated youth.) Stepping inside, everything about the space was the opposite of a detention center found in the United States. While Bosasa is a privately run facility, their focus is on education, identity development, rehabilitation, all through restorative justice practices. The young men walked around freely, played music and games, and I was given a tour by one young man named Ruben who had spent the past five years inside and was due to be potentially released this coming January.
I asked Ruben to describe his time at Bosasa. He explained that it does not feel like a prison, but instead, “This is the place to discover who you are. It is a place to be developed and trained. Bosasa does not let you forget who you are and where you come from.”
Ruben showed me their computer lab and classrooms, many of which surpassed spaces found in most LAUSD schools. We stopped in at the kitchen, and he proudly informed me that he had received official certification to enter the hospitality and food industry following his release. While inside Bosasa, all the young people are given an exam to determine what type of career path might suit them, and can earn their certification to enter the work force.
I was most curious about his transformation at Bosasa, as he told me upon arrival that he was arrested at age fifteen and had spent the past five years here. I inquired in-depth about Ruben’s experience in the restorative justice process:
“In restorative justice practices, they literally put you in the victim’s shoes. I learned the stages of trauma, and was put in different scenarios. They have you feel what the victim’s parents, siblings, and friends felt. They have you feel what the victim felt. I learned how the victim felt mistrust, confusion, and shame. Then justice is finally served when you go out and meet the victim face to face.
The experience put me in a two month state of depression, knowing that I did this to another person, and I did this to myself. I felt disgusting, know that I did this to someone.
However, knowledge is power, and you need to study yourself in depth. I could have been in prison for my entire life at age fifteen, but I was given a second chance.
Restorative justice does not always work. It’s like seeds that you plant. You might scatter them, but not all of them are going to bloom.”
After being immersed in studying the history of colonialism and apartheid for the past few weeks, meeting Ruben was inspiring, and gave me immense hope, as well as a newfound determination to advocate for restorative justice practices in my own community.
“To me, feeling empowered is me knowing who I am, what I am capable of, and being able to live among other people. You can’t go anywhere alone. Being empowered means I can live with my brothers and sisters.”