Beyond prison walls

Ex Offender, pastor Samuela Qica with Fiji Corrections Service Acting Commissioner, Senior Superintendent Salote Panapasa at Girmit Centre in Lautoka. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

For 20 odd years, Samuela Civo saw the prison as his safety net and home. He was first convicted as a 14-year-old in 1977.

From that time until 1992, he escaped twice from the Naboro Maximum Prison and was slapped prison sentences for a variety of offences including theft, aggravated robbery and burglary. But those days of naivety and misdeeds are gone.

The Kadavu man is now an ordained pastor at the Lautoka Full Gospel Tabernacle Church and a strong advocate of the Fiji Corrections Service’s Yellow Ribbon Program. But Mr Civo’s urge and the journey to achieving change was no easy feat.

It was a time that demanded from him personal commitment and a complete transformation of mindset and spiritual life.

Mr Civo’s was brought up in the once rugged neighborhood of Topline, on the outskirts of Lautoka.

He got caught up at a very early age with street life, which led him to the Suva Boys Centre where he spent most of his juvenile days.

“I must admit that I started offending at a very early age,” he said.

“For me, it was a norm to commit those crimes without realising that I was leading a life of a criminal.”

For years he got entangled in a bad spell that saw him reoffending every time he got released.

It became almost impossible to get away from prison’s revolving door. During this crime streak, Mr Civo escaped twice from the Naboro Maximum Security Prison Complex.

He said these planned breakouts were designed to satisfy his desire to spend a few minutes outside of prison walls.

To him, managing an escape from a maximum facility was a way he could prove he was brave and bold, and could do anything he wanted.

Little did he know that those breakouts would ultimately lead him to bigger troubles and a lengthier prison stay.

In 1989, Mr Civo went back in for an aggravated burglary charge, an offence which could easily carry a six-year prison sentence.

“I met a pastor when I was released on bail and the first question he asked me was when will you finally come out of prison?

“That question hit me. I was nearly reaching 30 and I went home realising how I had wasted my time going in and out of prison.

“The next day we met again and he gave me a prayer tip which I’ve remembered and followed to this day- “kneel and seek God’s intervention in your life and change your mindset and the way you look at life”. After pleading guilty and completing his four-year term, Mr Civo walked out of jail a changed man. Unlike his previous releases, he was now a man committed to sharing the powerful testimony of God’s work on his life.

“One night when I was serving my last four-year sentence, I saw in a dream that I was already outside. I woke up knowing that I had to start working towards that dream.

“Now that I am a father, I do not want my children to go through what I went through so I mold them and teach them the Word from a young age.

“I believe, everything starts from home, from parents and guardians, in teaching their children the right way to go.”

Today, Mr Civo is of the stern belief that an offender cannot change unless he himself decides mentally and spiritually that he needs transformation.

He also believes that his experience, though painful, has allowed him to be a messenger of God, and an advocate for change, prayer and faith.

More Stories