I have had the same land line phone number for the past 8 years. So many random people know it, but mostly the kids...or the older guys that used to be kids. In the first few years i was here i would get about two to six calls a day from the streets; telling me someone had been stabbed, someone was in trouble, someone was arrested, but much of the time just calling to say "hi". Many of the kids knew my number out of memory, and others walked around with it in their pocket. After all these years there are now a select few that still remember my number and call regularly. One thing that i have noticed is that most of the calls i get these days are not from the streets, but rather from different juvenile facilities.
The past two mornings i have received calls from Pollsmoor Prison Juvenile section. Pollsmoor is really the worst place a young person can end up in Cape Town. There are a group of guys there that all strolled in town but are now locked up for various reasons. They call fairly regularly. Usually about once a week. One of them that knows my number will tell the guys he is going to call me and a group of all my buddies from Cape Town will gather around the phone and take turns speaking. Yesterday was funny because it was the first time i had spoken to them since i had spent 16 days on the streets. They had heard about it and were all interested how it went, what i did, if i begged for money, if people gave it to me, where i slept, and so on. They all said they wish they could have seen it, and some of them said they went to court in town during my 16 days and heard about how i was doing from others that came by the court.
Today two of the guys brought their friends to the phone to speak to me. The one kid, who they call Whitey, got on the phone and said, "Is this Ryan?".
"Yep. Is this Whitey?"
He laughed, "Yeah. I have heard allot about you. These guys are always talking about you."
"That's nice. I hope it's not bad stuff!"
He laughed and confirmed that it was not. "They say you rap."
"A little bit."
Without missing a beat he said, "They say you make movies!"
I laughed, "Well, i have never made a movie but i have made a couple of music videos. Where do you come from?"
"Do you know Louwellen?"
"Yeah, we live on the same street."
We then chatted a bit about Louwellen, Bellville South and then i asked him about his case. Whitey is in for "armed robbery", which he really did do, but he has still not been sentenced and has been in Pollsmoor for more than two years! There were a couple of things that stood out to me in talking to Whitey. One, was what a respectable young man he was over the phone. He spoke to me with respect and seemed to have a genuinely kind heart. This does not mean he should get off easy for the things that he has done, but also realising that these youngsters are often products of their environments is important; so if they are raised by the "streets" they will act like it, but if they have people to see the goo din them and nurture that, they will feed off of it. The other thing that stood out was something that i have seen time and time again. Whitey has sat two year in prison! TWO YEARS!! Think back on all that you have done in the past two years and imagine spending that time in jail. But not only in jail but only AWAITING being sentenced because the court messed up and there is a "problem with the evidence".
This happens all too often in the South African "justice" system, most especially when it comes to minors! And i see it is one piece of the complex puzzle that holds these kids in this lifestyle. Because often they are arrested, and then much of the time they sit for prolonged periods of time, for different reasons (social workers can't get a hold of guardians, missing evidence, can't find others that are also in the case, etc.), only to become more frustrated, also getting more involved in gang activity, only to come out even more hardened than before. And a case like Whitey shows that it not only happens with kids from the streets, but also kids that commit crimes in the communities. This is an area where we need to see more focus.
Many people are happy when the "trouble making" youth are just locked up; out of sight out of mind! But i assure you, though they are out of sight for a time period, if they do not receive justice they deserve, coupled with true rehabilitation, they will return to society being worse than before. So even though they might be out of sight for now, we need to keep them in mind, and even make them our priorities, for the good of our future and theirs!