No Looking back

Inmates learn more
August 1, 2014
SNCO’s and Reception officers graduate
August 13, 2014

Corrections officers, Julia Raibevu (left) and Vika Vereivalu (right) with Noelani Tuibeqa in Mokani Village, Tailevu

Life is all about struggles and how best any one can adapt or even succeed is totally up to an individual.

This is the story of an exceptional woman, 37-year-old Noelani Tuibeqa whom I met on her special day in the village of Mokani in Tailevu.

Noelani’s story is filled with heartaches, pain and eventually joy as she struggled over the years to make a decent living for her younger siblings.

“I am the eldest in a family of six siblings and after my mother left for work overseas, I was entrusted with my younger siblings and had to look after them till my mother returned,” explained an emotional Noelani.

“It was hard then because I was also young and naive and all it took was a few wrong decisions and following the wrong crowd for me to end up behind bars back in 1993,” she said tearfully.

Noelani recalls the day when she was led to the Women’s Corrections Facility in Suva where she felt that her whole world had collapsed.

“After hearing the gate close and locked behind me, it finally dawned on me that I was actually in prison and I cried myself to sleep for many nights,” she added.

“And to make things worse, my mother returned and took all my siblings to live with her abroad while I was stuck in prison.”

Noelani says that her being in prison did not deter her mother’s love for her and this kept her strong over the years that she spent in prison.

“My mother was constantly in touch and I will forever be indebted to her for her undying love and support towards me till today.”

During her incarceration period from 1993 to 1997, Noelani went through numerous counseling sessions and was taught to instill discipline within her.

“I learnt many things like cooking  and sewing and it was enough to occupy my thoughts and keep me happy.”

“The day I was discharged, I vowed that I was going to become a better person and never return to prison,” she smiled.

Noelani worked extra hard to win the trust of her family members and friends and eventually won the heart of Jone Bula of Mokani Village in Tailevu.

One thing led to another and through a lot of ups and downs in their relationship, Noelani and Jone finally tied the knot on the 20th of June this year in a small ceremony at their home in Mokani Village.

“I will forever be indebted to Jone as he accepted me for the person that I am now and not the person that I was years back,” she smiled gratefully.

Noelani admits that they had to endure a lot during their relationship because of the stigma that was associated with her stint in prison.

“When walking around, I could not help but feel that people were talking about me and giving me looks. Sometimes I just feel like staying indoors for fear of being told off as if walking on the road was a crime,”  she laughed.

“But I am grateful and  at peace knowing that I have been accepted into the family wholeheartedly,” she smiled proudly.

Through the Fiji Corrections Service Poverty Alleviation Program (PAP), Noelani received farming tools worth $1,000 to start her off.

“The tools have been very handy as we have been farming vigorously to earn a living. Sometimes I even take my produce consisting mostly of root crops to my relatives working in Suva who have been kind enough to support me.”

Staff Officer (Rehabilitation) for the Fiji Corrections Service, Vika Vereivalu says that Noelani is a really strong woman who stood firm even though she was going through a lot of challenges.

“When she was released, she would always come back to us seeking our advice because of everything that she was going through out of prison. We steered her along the right path and I am proud to see that she has started a whole new chapter in her life,” said Ms Vereivalu.

Ms Vereivalu admits that acceptance of an ex-offender by their families and communities can be really challenging.

“That is why we need family members to support them wholeheartedly so that they feel loved and appreciated despite the wrongs that they had done.”

“Our rehabilitation programs  are about the inmates and once they enter any of our institutions around the country, they go through vigorous counseling sessions which help us to understand them better.”

“Only then will we be able to address their areas of weakness and help them to become better citizens,” said Ms Vereivalu.

As for Noelani, she has certainly picked up the pieces of her life that were broken and now she is holding on dearly to the promise of a better tomorrow.

“I am certainly not looking back now and am forging ahead with my new family and will also continue to farm to earn a decent living,” she smiled.

“Prison is not the place to be for anyone because it can get really lonely so I sincerely hope that our young people will choose their friends wisely. Friends that will always be by their side through their ups and downs.”

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