The strength of ACAY is in the inspiring testimonies of all its youth who have stood back up. John Paul, accompanied by ACAY in the Philippines, after a life full of setbacks, was invited to share his journey with French youth in difficult circumstances last July. He tells of his month of encounters, discoveries, sharing and surprise, his month of testifying.
“At first, I was stressed when Laurent asked me if I wanted to go to France. This trip involved so many new things! Everything was a first time: processing my passport and visa, getting on the plane… At the airport, when I passed the immigration officer, he was suspicious about the purpose of my travel to France. Finally, when I told him that I was a former CICL and that now I was going to help incarcerated minors, he was impressed. Being an ex-convict is a stigma that carries many judgments in daily life.
Once I arrived in Marseille, I had to adapt to the people, the climate… Everything was different to the Philippines. I met the team and the volunteers of ACAY France who welcomed me warmly. When I told them about my life journey, I had a hard time controlling my emotions because I could still feel the hardship of what I’ve been through and the pain of my struggles.
As I began my first testimonies in front of the incarcerated youth, up to four a day, I found the French jail very nice. The young people were spoiled, it was like a hotel. In Manila Youth Reception Center (MYRC) where I was, the conditions were much harder. This filled me with compassion for the Filipino youth who don’t have what I saw in France. The problem is that the French youth don’t realize this advantage they have; I found many of them rather strong headed. Even so, I enjoyed being there to inspire and encourage them.
During a quick trip to Paris, I met up with Argie, another young Filipino accompanied by ACAY at the same time as me now living in France. It was encouraging to see him. Back in Marseille, I gave my testimony at the Wake-Up Café, an organization dedicated to the reintegration of former prisoners above 18. There, I saw young men all wearing the same ankle bracelet. At first, I thought that it was just a kind of millennial gadget for youth in France… but then I was shocked! The purpose of this bracelet was in fact to keep an eye on them and make sure they kept their curfew.
Personally, I was able to adapt to people’s judgments. I had to be smart with who I hung out with, to avoid situations that would lead to problems. To do this, you need patience and an unwavering commitment to one’s goals, knowing what to rely on: faith for some, reading for others, or the support of an association like ACAY. Not everything is given, you must also get involved: it’s an active choice to stand firm. Going through doubts and discouragements, highlighting to your weaknesses… The challenge is to face them without denial, to bring out the good fruits.
12 years after jail, I have a wife and children who can count on me. When I testify about this achievement in front of youth, it enables them to draw a parallel between my initial situation and theirs. What I experienced once and what they may be experiencing now. And by my success, I show them that there is a way out for them. Where a similar person has been able to succeed, they too will be able to succeed.”