Earnest Okello and I arrive at KYCTC and it takes another hour before the boys can gather for our first ICT CAT (continuous assessment test). The occassion is so special I have cycled 25 KM to witness it. After waking up at 5:30 AM, to make and have breakfast it is a mystery that I ended up not taking breakfast!
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Earnest and I walked into the class. I am a bit disappointed that 8 of our boys have dropped out (story for another day) and we only have 17 boys. Among the 17 exceptional young men, Joker stands out.
I am soon going to give him a more promising name, perhaps a precious mineral or a star. But right now, he is going to be known as Joker. Joker is wearing a blue and black stripes polo t-shirt. He has left the collar sticking out from his thin neck. A tight neck muscle traces its way from his collarbone to the base of his head.
Today he wearing grey seat pants and a pair of mismatched slippers. Even as Earnest address the whole class and shares exam room rules, Joker was playing solitaire and listening to reggae music. The volume was so low you had to really strain to hear it.
Strangers in the Night and the Joker
It actually took me 3 minutes to discover that the music was playing from somewhere inside the room. I give Joker a look that orders to the right thing but he smirks and ignores me. He clicked the computer mouse and the cards he was playing spread out and merged with a deck of 10 piles of cards on top.
By the time I had I alerted Earnest to this fact, he had clicked the J card. Once again cards flew all over the screen. Earnest asked him to switch off the computer. But he didn’t switch it off. However, he switched off the desktop monitor and left the CPU on. The music was still playing chini ya maji as Edward ‘the Nyatti’ Mbogo would refer to such a thing.
Joker wants to own a cyber cafe when he exits prison
Whenever a new batch of boys join Lifesong Kenya’s program, we often ask why they are joining. Most say they want to acquire skills they cna use after they exit prison. Joker is not an exception. This is what he said.
“Nimegundua huko kwetu kuna tu cyber jamo,” he drawled in a voice that showed he had been listening to reggae artists talk. “Kwa hivyo lazima nichangamke, au sio?” since none of the boys added ‘au sio’ he continued, “I’m going to open a cyber cafe and do photocopy and burn movies.”
That was a month ago during our orientation session.
Inspiration of reggae music to our exceptional young men
Lifesong Kenya works with two categories of of boys and exceptional young men.
The first category is made up of boys whose lives are turning around. They are eager to learn and soak in everything. Most were in high school, university while some don’t even know how to read and write.
The second category is made up of the ‘cool guys’ who are able to manipulate the system and facilitators. They will tell anything to please you. They will ssay they can read and write only to say they can’t during exams or note taking.
The category that can’t read and write used to baffle me by their ability to sing along to reggae music. They will rub their bellies while dancing to Glenn Washington’s ‘Strangers In The Night’. They also snap their fingers and smile when Beres Hammond sings ‘They Gonna Talk‘ from our bluetooth mini speaker.
We only discovered most of our dancers were illiterate and dropped out of primary school when we asked them to write lyrics of their favourite reggae songs. Joker belongs to the second category. He is a cool guy who calls the shots and has every boy wrapped around his little finger.
He is also the kind of guy who wouldn’t have had any interest in learning a new skill had he not come to prison. This being so, prison offers the only window of opportunity to learn new things and become a better young man. The only problem is, he is a joker.
Nobody can stop reggae
Even as I asked Joker to stop playing the reggae music he was listening to, I remembered what Lucky Dube said. Nobody can stop reggae, I can almost hear Joker whisper as he touches the monitor power button. The screen comes to life.
It turns out that the Solitaire game was still on. Joker uses the mouse to pause the song. Beres Hammond and Cutty Ranks stops singing ‘Tempted To Touch.’ Just before Joker shuts off the power, he clicks on the cards. Cards fly across the screen and I swallow my anger and make a mental note. I must have word with Joker after the exam is over.
One hour later, Joker is among the few boys who were yet to hand their exam papers. Instead of bringing his own paper, he sent one of his foot soldiers. I was not ready to continue playing games. I asked him to bring it himself and asked him a few questions before he went back to his chair.
It turns out that Joker has been in remand for the past two years. His family seldom visits him. His youngest brother doesn’t have a clue that Joker is in prison while his neighbors don’t want himm back.
He is now 19 years old and plans to get married when he turns 30. Right now, he is here and doesn’t know when he will exit prison. I wonder where where his wife is right now. I hope she is spending her time wisely by using her God-given gifts and treasures to better herself.
On our part, Earnest, the whole Lifesong Kenya team and I will do our best to make sure he turns into a treasure and a better men. Just before we left, he turned on the computer and resumed listening to Richie Spice’s ‘Groovin My Girl.’
“Teacher James and Earnest, see you tomorrow,” he said.