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Never too late to change

Losalini Bolatagici
Monday, August 07, 2017

He was barely 18 years old when he committed his first crime that landed him in prison. His first entry in 1987 became a gateway to the life he least expected. Prison became a lasting home for him.

But 31 years on, after serving sentences totalling 27 years, Josua Raitamata has realised his mistakes and believes he still has time to make amends to his life's journey. At 49, he has readjusted his focus, reset his priorities and working towards becoming a better person committed to his vanua and becoming a responsible citizen for the nation.

Raitamata was discharged last year after a sentence of five years and five months. Because of his changed behaviour, he only served a term of four years. With the constant counselling received within, he was determined to set his path right and promised himself that he was never returning to the controlled life behind bars.

Previously, he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for manslaughter, nine years for robbery with violence, four months for absconding before his last conviction of felony.

During his criminal days, he had distanced himself from his Navunimono Village in Verata, Tailevu and the Nausori Town area became his temporary home, besides prison.

Since his release last year, Raitamata returned to his village and took ownership of his role and responsibilities.

"My family is the head of our clan in the village. My uncle is taking up that traditional role at the moment and I will be next in line," Raitamata said.

"I have reached a point in life where I have realised that there is more to life than committing crimes and going into prison. I am determined to turn my life around. It was because of peer pressure that I first entered and while there, my mind got polluted by those already inside and that's when I was too bold to plan and commit crimes."

He decided to utilise his time and land and he farmed for the basic purpose of food security.

He put his hard work in his dalo and cassava plantations became the talk of the village.

He was beating other farmers and even supplying crops to some households. His dream of venturing out into commercial farm also came to fruition.

"I've heard of the PAP (poverty alleviation program) funding while inside so I decided to give it a go. From the assistance I received from the Fiji Corrections Service, I planted crops that only took a short time to harvest. I was given farming equipment and vegetable seedlings and it only took three months to harvest my cabbage, cucumber and other vegetables which I sold," he said.

Raitamata said he was fortunate to have met his partner, a woman he described as understanding and hardworking. They became business partners as well, running a small eatery at the old Nausori bus stand.

"I supply the eatery with root crops and vegetables too and a certain amount generated from selling my vegetables was used to buy fish for the eatery. We sell cooked fish in coconut milk or served with miti.

"We are happy with what we earn every day as we have our clients who eat here very often."

He admitted that he was now living a peaceful life.

"Before I used to be involved in a lot of planning or I was the mastermind behind some of the major crimes. Even when I was inside, I was still playing a key role ensuring that the job is planned well and executed accordingly," he said.

"I no longer have to worry now. I am earning honestly and I am thankful to the Fiji Corrections Service for the rehabilitation opportunities while inside and also outside."

Raitamata has plans to expand his business. He is setting his focus on extending his eatery to have a small grog shop to serve the taxi and mini bus drivers of Nausori well.

He said he would continue to work hard to achieve his dream.

? Losalini Bolatagici is the public relations officer for the Fiji Corrections Service.

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