Peter repeated Grade 5 thrice at a public elementary school in Quezon City before dropping out in…
At age 12, Ryan* has gone through hell twice over.
As a struggling adolescent from a poor family in Cebu who had to fend off for his single mother and younger sisters, he had roamed the city’s underbellies. He picked pockets, sniffed marijuana, begged for alms and food, snatched jewellery, sold shabu (crack cocaine), and stole from shops. He was in and out of prison, having been arrested five times. But no one had a clue on how to handle his case or where to refer him for correction.
In jail he was tortured to admit where he hid a necklace his friend stole on the streets. “The police made me kneel on a rough floor all night, and beat my legs with the batuta (night stick). I really did not know, because it was my friend who stole it – and he managed to escape arrest. They had no mercy, even as I begged in pain.” After that, he was given only a biscuit for dinner, then sent back to his prison cell.
“I just did not have anything…”
For starters, Ryan’s mother did not have any stable income from one-off domestic jobs across their neighbourhood. He then moved to live with an aunt who cared for him, until she died of cancer. That was when he took to gangs and street crimes.
Ryan had never seen his father, he felt the absence of a paternal figure in his life, he always wondered whether their life with a father could have been any better; or why life was simply not fair. Given all this, without any parental guidance, he thought, it was not difficult to succumb to a violent and cruel environment.
When he was released from prison, his other aunt – who was peddling shabu – even egged him to sell to street children on the streets of Colon, Fuente and Mango Ave.
The same questions that plagued him growing up, also led him to some realisations: “If I went on with my vices, only few things would have happened to me: either I would be in jail or in a hospital; either I would end up killing someone or get killed.” He saw no other future for him. “It was just hopeless.”
Redeeming his second shot at life
All that did not break Ryan. Midway through the conversation his lunch was served. He paused quiet and said a prayer. After a few blank stares out the window, he went on: “I can say I’m lucky to have been given a second chance by the Magone Home of the Don Bosco Brothers because without the [program], I would not bother with trying to find change. I would just have lost all hope in myself, because even my own friends had already given up on me,” he said.
Magone was the residential center Ryan received his diversion program from – learning basic house chores, receiving school lessons and spiritual guidance, and attending workshops with fellow youth.
Ryan teared up when quoting another friend, whom he described as even worse off for not going through any diversion program but has had a recent similar realization himself: “If you let chances like that pass, you will only regret it. Not everyone gets a second chance, especially with how our own society can be judgmental against erring children.”
“That’s why I feel very lucky,” he shyly said as he wiped his left eye.
Positive change to mend his old ways
Ten months into his stay at Don Bosco, Ryan was released back to his family. He was deemed ready to be re-integrated into society mainly because “he manifested so much change, and was well-liked by his peers in the centre. He had a distinct ability to keep his focus on his tasks and studies; and he diligently continues to seek guidance from us whenever he has questions or confusion,” said Robby Echavez of the Magone Home Don Bosco.
Ryan has apprenticed in welding and carpentry; graduated from his courses at the Alternative Learning System (ALS); still serves as an altar assistant to the Don Bosco community’s masses; and has recently earned a full-merit academic scholarship at a university in Cebu.
Does he still resent what were done to him in prison? “Hard to say,” he said – mainly because he would first like to more deeply understand why society allows children his age be sent to such an environment and treated the way he was treated.
But he continues to remind himself of the positive change he has gone through – especially at times when peer pressure and the temptation to go back to his old ways haunt him: “I now focus on showing those people who used to mock me – including police and some of the Court staff – that I’m a renewed person. I just needed someone I can trust with my story, someone who listens and does not judge me.”
Paying it forward with what little he has
Now as if finding his way back into the real world, he’s proud of his decision to major in Psychology “to help me answer the many questions I had as a child; and more importantly, help other children find answers to questions that sometimes lead them astray.” He wants to guide poor and troubled children who have nowhere or no one to speak to.
He also continues to get by with minimum wage from different part-time jobs and as a working scholar in school so he can help support his mother and two younger sisters.
His friends and neighbors know all about what he went through. Some of them still doubt how long he can keep up with a clean slate; but Ryan remains stern of his newfound journey because, he said, “my own friends who continued to be in and out of prison are worse off each time they are released.”
Ryan believes he now finds deeper meaning in second chances. But for him, that second chance was not merely an opportunity to change; in his own words: “It has built me, my character; and has given me the courage to continue being a better person – especially for those who believe in me.”
* Name changed to protect child’s identity.