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I'm Xola

When I was younger, I used to think Hope is for other people, not for me. I would look at the madness around me and say to myself, is this all there is to life? I grew up in Samora, Cape Town , where I spent my youth as part of a gang. We would smike drugs and abuse alcohol, to the point where I was unrecognisable to myself. I was arrested for being in possession of a firearm. After 9 months in prison I made some critical life decisions that altered the direction my life was taking. I enrolled myself in a number of courses, including The Message Enterprise Programme, Since leaving prison, I've started working at the Mess Cafe, a business initiative of The Message. I've been trained as a barista, hoping to one day become South Africa's very best. I mentor young boys that were previously orphaned or on the streets and now stay in a half-way house in Salt River.

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Heroic. Glorified. Respected. This was my perception of gangsters in my neighbourhood in Crossroads growing up. The recognition and freedom I missed in my relationship with my abusive father was found in the wrong crowds. I was arrested for armed robbery, murder and other serious crimes at the age of 17 and found myself within the confines of Drakenstein prison. This was a turning point for me. I committed my life to God and starting searching for ways to grow and empower myself in spite of my surroundings, completing life skills courses and reading as much as I could. Still I had a nagging fear of what would happen once I was released from prison. Where would I go? The Message SA job readiness and entrepreneurship programme caught my attention and on completion, I helped facilitate it in the prison. Since leaving Drakenstein I’ve been working with The Message teaching the same principles to others. I also mentor young boys in resource scarce areas like Khayelitsha. It hasn’t been an easy journey but I love what I do. My dream is to run my own enterprise and empower young people.

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I was born and raised in Gugulethu, a place notorious for gangsterism and violence. I went out looking for validation and acceptance on the streets and started doing the things I saw well-known gangsters do in order to get recognition. I joined a gang and became a drug dealer at school In 2008 I had a wakeup call when I was arrested and sentenced for robbery. Realising there was no turning back, I decided to empower muself in prison and immersed myself in every training programme available. IU met the Message Trust team and completed their business and job readiness course. I had fears of not finding a job once released because of my criminal record, but they offered me a creative media internship. I have now been working at The Message for over a year and did a design course at Learn 2 Earn in Khayelitsha. My vision is to own a graphic design company and to encourage young people to embrace opportunities instead of wasting their lives on the streets.

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It wasn't supposed to end that way. What started as a planned hijacking turned into intoxication, robbery and a series of horrible events. I was 19 and had been drifting in circles of alcohol, drug abuse and carelessness for years. After being arrested I suddenly saw my life with new clarity, recalling the milestones where things had gone wrong. I needed to gain control of my life. I pleaded guilty. It was one of the darkest times of my life. My father passed away while I was in prison. My biggest desire had been to reconcile with him. I couldn't get out on parole under normal circumstances due to the nature of my case. In spite of this darkness, I felt myself being shaped and developing an inner strength. God gave me a promise for my life and I've been holding onto it ever since. I connected with The Message Trust and now serve on the team as Soft Machine manager. I have a beautiful family and my greatest desire is to be a good father to my 1 year old son.