Youth Day: Former drug addict’s advice on how to help drug-addicted children

Jacky Nhlapo

Former prisoner and recovered drug addict Jacky Nhlapo talks about his life of struggle with drugs and crime and shares advice on how parents can deal with a child who suffers from drug abuse and crime.

According to young people in most countries constitute both the majority of perpetrators and victims of violence and crime. In South Africa, crime is a huge problem and many South African youth are exposed to it from a young age. According to the saferspaces report many young people in South Africa are exposed to, and frequently perpetrate criminal and violent activity long before they reach the age of 18. In townships especially, most young people resort to crime as a source of escaping poverty. Jacky Nhlapo (37) from Meadowlands, Gauteng, also turned to crime to make a living.

“I grew up in Meadowlands and Zola. The environment was not good. I started smoking in Grade 7 and got exposed to drugs. In secondary school, I told myself I can do as I pleased. I’d sometimes skip school if I didn’t feel like it and I started doing crime. I specialised in housebreaking, and people in our community would buy stolen goods. So, I made money selling stolen goods. Crime was my language. It is what I knew how to do,” says Jacky.

“In 1997 I went to jail for the first time and I was only 16 years of age. I would go in and out of prison, until 2010 and I was also addicted to drugs for 13 years,” says Jacky.

“I was not even afraid of doing house robbery with people inside the house,” he says shamefully.

Now a changed man, his passion lies in helping the young better their lives.

“I wish youngsters understood that crime does not pay. When people saw me go in and out of prison, they thought it was because I enjoyed being in it, but that was not the case. Going to jail will add to the problems you have. Jail is difficult. Others don’t even survive it and others come out without certain body parts because there are gangsters in jail and they can anything to you. No matter how poor you are, it is better to suffer outside than to go behind bars,” advices Jacky.

The 37-year old now spends his time visiting prisoners and goes around schools warning young people to stay away from drugs and crime.

“Apart from the prison and school work I do to try help youngsters, I am also studying and working with three rehab centres around the country. I tell young people that crime is not a solution.”

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Jacky says life out of prison is not easy.

“Society is not very welcoming, even if you are a changed man. To make ends meet, I washed dustbins and I also once worked at a garage. I stopped working at the garage because I believe the bigger purpose in my life and my calling is to help people turn their lives around. If I am a changed man today, so can they be. It wasn’t easy to be the changed man that I am. It took more than rehab and prison, but God changed me, and that is why I always tell parents to pray for their children if they are struggling,” says Jacky.

He adds that parents should never give up hope. “Don’t give up on a person. Hope doesn’t kill. There’s a saying that says, “a living dog is better than a dead lion”.  There’s hope in a person who is living than in one who is dead. I spend almost 18-20 years committing crime, and it took a toll on my mom. There was a time I was shot in my own house. I almost died. My mom experienced a lot of difficult things, but she never gave up hope, and that is why I advise parents never to give up on their children. Her hope in me kept me going,” he says.

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Jacky also adds that sometimes parents need to give their children tough love. “It is sometimes good for parents to give their children tough love. Even though parents are supposed to be supportive, there is supposed to be a balance. For me, I knew my mom was always there for me. I knew I could mess up and always count on her to be there. In my case, this contributed negatively. When parents show tough love and reprimand their children, it shows the child how serious you are as a parent and how you don’t approve of their behaviour. If you pamper your child etc., they might continue with their behaviour,” warns Jacky.

“Lastly, if the parent believes in prayer, I advise them to pray and give their child to God. Everything is possible through God.”

Jacky Nhlapo

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