How Pratap looks to redeem himself in life after prison
When the violence at home became too much, Ashwin Pratap sought an escape through the company of friends, drug use and rebellion.
It wasn’t long before that escape set him on a trail of self destruction. While it did nothing to quell the hollowness within, it fuelled his desire to blend into his new ‘family’ now comprising peers boasting records of juvenile misdeeds. And the easiest way to blend in was to go against the grain. “I attended Dilkusha Boys School and Lelean Memorial School. As a youngster, I grew up with a lot of violence happening around me, mostly the result of my dad beating my mother. There was too much pressure at home, too much violence and it got to me,” he said. “I was 14 when on one occasion my dad was beating my mum, I decided to intervene. I grabbed a cane knife and confronted my dad as he dragged my mum down the stairs by her hair. I told him to let go of her and he retaliated by kicking me. I took the handle of the knife and hit my dad with it. He eventually let go of my mum and turned on me with a wooden plank. I was beaten up quite badly that day.”
Pratap recalls how his life took an aggressive turn after the incident.
“From that point I got into violence and drugs. I stopped playing soccer and instead began to do kickboxing, I became more aggressive. I went to study in New Zealand and there I was bullied a lot. I always fought back,” he recalled.
While fighting off a group of bullies at one stage, Pratap says he was unaware the boys were members of an organised crime syndicate. He went on to join the gang and life took a further turn for the worst.
“My definition of life then revolved around excitement, danger and risks. Without risk, my life was boring, it just wasn’t normal for me.”
Pratap served brief prison sentences in New Zealand but it was a failed relationship that sent him packing back home. He returned home to find his elderly parents living alone and without support.
“My first three years back I was kept busy looking after my dad who was diabetic. “He went into coma and required full time caregiving so I had to leave my job and look after him. That’s when I began cultivating marijuana,” he said. Pratap was caught and forced to surrender when his dad was taken into Police custody because marijuana plants were found growing on his property. “My father told me ‘I’m about to die, it’s only a matter of months so just tell the police I’m the one cultivating the drugs and it’s mine’. He was ready to take the blame but I couldn’t let that happen. I’d rather go to prison then blame my dad,” he said. Three months before he was found guilty of cultivating illicit drugs and sentenced, Pratap’s dad passed away. “Before he died my dad told me: you’re the son who got the meanest hidings from me but towards the end of my life, you’re the one who came back to take care of me.
“The truth is it’s a duty every son and daughter should perform – it’s not a great thing, you shouldn’t feel proud of it, it’s your duty to take care of your parents.” Pratap was sentenced to 26 months imprisonment but only served about 18 months of that term because of good behaviour. “During my time inside, I learnt a lot of things.
“Religious novels are good for inmates and should be distributed more often. I’ve learnt that when people don’t have anything to do, they’ll automatically turn to mischief. If they have something to keep their minds occupied, even in prison you can get into mischief (smoking suki etc), but once you have something to keep yourself occupied, you won’t go there.” He was released for community service last May and assigned to work with the Dilkusha orphanage. “Working with the orphans has changed me a lot. No child should be born into a life of suffering. I never used to carry kids around but that has changed and I am grateful that after serving my community service, the deaconess of the home offered me full time employment as a gardener and I agreed.”
Pratap, now 34, also focuses his time on a poultry farm that he started with financial assistance from the Fiji Corrections Service.
“I’ve had to rebuild my poultry farm because of the two cyclones that occurred earlier this year and I’ve managed to do that without additional financial assistance from anywhere. I hope to start earning income from the poultry farm by December. It’s better to venture into this than dealing with drugs, you won’t be paranoid about the police coming and searching your property, you’ll have a good night’s sleep. Stress makes you old,” he said.
“I’ve changed and it’s all about improvement. “My age made me rethink my direction in life. I would urge young people to never give up. If you have something you really want to do, do it. If you fail, do it again. “Nothing is impossible. Time is money, if you waste time, you’re wasting money so don’t waste time.”
With a better future already taking shape, Pratap says finding a wife will complete his new life.
Source: Fiji Corrections Services