Sometimes one just needs to see things from a new perspective for everything to fall into place. This is a point well understood by Kai*, who graduated with a degree in fine arts and is an art teacher today.
Kai had a rough childhood. His parents separated when he was young and he was the victim of bullies at school. As an angry teenager, he turned to the companionship of a street corner gang and learned to fight so he could seek revenge on those who bullied him. By the age of 18, he was a gang leader and became hooked on drugs, even engaging in drug peddling.
The next decade of his life was wasted away as he went in and out of prison for gang- and drug-related crimes. In prison, he would reminisce about the early days before his parents separated and how they would have their meals together. This became his goal – to be able to have a meal with his family when he is released. But it was not to be.
His father died of lung cancer six months before his release and Kai lost the chance to rekindle the kinship and taste the delicious home-cooked family meals he longed for. Losing his father made him realise that he had wasted his life on the useless ideologies of gangs. This shift in perspective moved him to put the pieces of his life back together.
Kai picked up pottery in prison, a skill that not only gave him peace but through which he could later mould the lives of wayward teens and ex-convicts. When he was released from prison, and with the help of his mother, sister and the Yellow Ribbon Project, Kai enrolled in a local arts college to further his artistic bent and graduated with a degree in fine arts.
Today, Kai runs his own pottery studio and inspires other ex-convicts and youths in gangs to look at things from a new perspective, through pottery workshops and art exhibitions. One exhibition he ran had him breaking bowls and having the inmates piece them back together using clay and gold paint, a metaphor for his own longing for the forever-elusive kinship and family meals.
"I put the pieces back together using clay and gold paint,” he explains. “I wanted to show the inmates that even though they've made mistakes, their family and the community will always offer them a second chance."
*Names have been changed.