Over two decades after relocating to the United States of America in pursuit of a better life, Ilesa, Osun State-born Dr. Silas Olayiwola Falokun, says he has no regrets, confessing it was the best decision he ever took. Today he does stuffs of legends, superintending over prisons in the State of Texas and championing prisons reform across Africa, volunteering as coordinator, Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (PREMI) in North and South America. He spoke on these as well as his other roles which include teaching, counseling and serving in the Lord’s vineyard as Minister with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf.
*When and why did you travel to America? Was it to pursue the Golden Fleece or to achieve the much hyped American Dream?
Let me begin by saying that any decision I made, I prayed about. By the time I took the decision to leave the country, nothing seemed to be working. The policies and programmes were stifling the economy. I found that I had fewer opportunities to be successful in Nigeria, hence when the opportunity presented itself; I decided to leave the country in 1998. Talking about living the good life and the American Dream,
I think we have to define what the good life really is. What I can tell you is that compared to what I would have been back home, I think I’m living the good life here, all thanks to God’s grace and favour. The decision I took to leave the country when I did was a lifesaving one. Today, I’m living comfortably well in my country of sojourn with my entire family.
The concept of the American Dream is that in this country, there is regard for the welfare of the people; the people come first. I have friends whom I left in Nigeria; who after the mandatory 35 years retirement age don’t have anything to fall back on. For those in service, their salaries are being owed, just as those entitled to pensions don’t get paid, while some die in the struggle to get it, following long waits on queues. Whereas the International Labour Law says that people should be adequately remunerated when they work, it is an irony of fate that in most African countries you may not even get paid after doing an honest work.
But it is a different ball game here in the US, where you’re guaranteed of the good life. You live in your dream house, you have a car, and you don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from and all. I’m really blessed to have all these things here. But more importantly, I think we need to realise that when people are no more in active service, we need to put the right programmes in place for them, so they can have something to fall back on?
I love my country Nigeria and wish for things to really get better, but looking back in time and with the fate that has befallen a lot of my contemporaries back home, I shudder at their misfortunes and wonder what would have become of me too if I had stayed back. Right after graduation I joined the Kwara State government employment, teaching at Offa Community School, in Kwara State, where I worked for about 12 years. I know a lot of people who have worked all their lives but ended up not getting the stipends paid in form of pensions, which cannot even take care of their needs. I’m not trying to delve into the realm of politics but I think there must be a long lasting pension scheme to cater for people who have put in years of meritorious service in the system.
*Of all the lucrative jobs overseas, how did you end up working in the prison in the State of Texas?
First, every job I have done in the United States has been lucrative. When I first got here, I worked as a clerk at a gas station. I later got a job as a social worker at the State of Texas, where I worked for nine years and rose to the position of a Unit Manager.
But when I found out that the job I was doing was no longer fulfilling for me, I decided to pursue further studies and in 2012, I was led by the spirit of God to work in the prison as an instructor. In the school here, I work as a College Professor and Counselor, which is an administrative position. Here, most prisons have their own schools. I can tell you that with my experience as a prison counselor and student advisor, I have been able to get some skills set that equipped me to be able to standardise any prison facility by helping them generate revenue, work out reasonable rehabilitation plan for inmates, which enables them to be self-reliant, helps to reintegrate them into the society and helps them get behaviour intervention.
As I said earlier, to prepare myself for the onerous task of the assignment at the prisons, I got certification in Applied Behaviour Analysis from Brandman University in Irving, California in 2014 and also became an Approved Provider of Drug Offenders’ Intervention and Anger Management Intervention in Texas before capping it up with my doctoral degree in Behaviour Health from Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona in USA in 2016. In my work in the prison, I feel fulfilled and I can tell you for a fact that working in the prison could be one of the most self-fulfilling and rewarding job you can find anywhere in the world. At least, I can attest to that.
*How did your family come to accept your new role as a prison worker?
I worked in two public school districts as regular and special education teacher until 2012 when I applied to work at the prisons. When I went for the interview and was considered suitable for the job, I came home and told my wife about it. None of my family members objected to the offer.
*Texas is seen as home of gangsters and cowboys prone to crime. How has this impacted on your job? Have you ever been threatened by inmates?
Let me start by saying that your own definition of who a cowboy or cowgirl is a bit misplaced. It’s true that some movies may have depicted them as gangsters but in reality this is not the case. Cowboys and cowgirls are very hardworking people. Among them you have the whites, blacks and Hispanics. If you look at the history of black cowboys, especially those born during the struggle, a lot of them have become successful with vast interest in major commanding heights of the economy such as Information and Communication Technology, oil and gas, ranching, and several other businesses. We have third generation of these sets of blacks today who have continued along the success trails of their progenitors.
Texas is generally a peaceful place, even Houston, the biggest city in Texas, remains a melting pot of commerce and industry. Texas is the second largest population in the USA. As much as one cannot deny incidences around the prisons, I can tell you for a fact that since I joined the employ, I have never had such fears – whether real or imagined of a protest anywhere near the prisons.
Neither have I been threatened with attacks of any sorts. I have never witnessed any form of attacks. The inmates are good people ordinarily before they fell on the wrong side of the law because they lacked the right information, advice and whatnots at the time. If they got timely assistance from relations, families and friends, things would have been different for them. Besides, here we have well-trained personnel who can deal with such matters of threats. What I can say is that when the inmates realise that you have their interest at heart, they are able to see you as their friend and confidante and can indeed be dependable. That has been my experience thus far.
T[4/18, 15:56] : ‘My life as prison administrator in the US’
[4/18, 15:58] :he perception out there is that there are too many blacks holed up in prisons in the USA compared to whites. What is the true situation? Has there been any incident of prison breaks?
To answer that question, we have to look at the population of people in certain locations where the prisons are located. Take for example, if you go to any typical prison in Southwest, Nigeria, chances are that you will find more inmates in those prisons populated by people from the southwest and vice versa. The same applies here. I don’t have the stats and may not want to make any conjectures at this point. But all I can say is that the system follows the law clearly on what should be done to any felon. Regardless of your race, you get prompt punishment. The popular refrain, ‘if you do the crime, you’ll do the time’ applies to everyone here. Texas is a no-nonsense state. The State of Texas has prisons that are well-secured. I can talk better about Texas prisons because I work here. When you visit the prisons, you have more checkpoints than normal and every prison in Texas is largely monitored both remotely and onsite. There are lots of gadgets to do this just as you have more than enough manpower in place physically too.
As the Coordinator for the United States chapter of the Prison Rehabilitation Mission International, Inc. (PREMI, USA), in charge of North and South America, what exactly is your role?
My role as the Coordinator of the Prison Rehabilitation Mission International (PREMI) in North and South America is to set up a volunteer committee carefully select the board of trustees, and register PREMI as a chapter. This adds to the international influence of PREMI because there is an active chapter of PREMI in the United Kingdom under the leadership of Reverend James Ademuyiwa. Today, the North and South America’s chapter of PREMI has eight other very experienced prison experts currently working in various Texas correctional facilities. They are Mr. Oliver Obi (MSW) (Correctional Officer at TDCJ/Education and Vocational Training), Mr. Ezekiel O. Laleye (Sergeant at TDCJ/Food Services), Dr. Johnson Olusanya (Nurse Practitioner/Medical Services at TDCJ), and Mr. Alfred Ekemezie (Agriculture/Supervisor at TDCJ). Others are Dr. Norbert Nkwelle (Captain at TDCJ/ Administration and Security), Sergeant Adebayo Quadri-Shitta (Alternate Captain at TDCJ/Food Service), and Sergeant Oki. Mr. Ayo Sopitan and Mr. Akin Akanni are free-world volunteers with several years of experience in business management and accounting respectively.
Could you expatiate on the mission of PREMI?
The Prison Rehabilitation Mission International wants to partner with the people and government of Nigeria and other African countries to reform the prison and penal systems by helping to add more vocational, academic, and life skills classes to every prison and transition facility, build PREMI Transition Village that will provide vocational training to released offenders in many trades. Released offenders will partake in the programmes and get paid. This will discourage recidivism. We will engage transitioning tenants in mechanised agriculture, installations and repair, hospitality programmes and academic training. We will produce, assemble, manufacture and provide services to the government and people of the country.
PREMI proposes to build the African Institute for Corrections for the purpose of training and developing correctional officers, conduct international workshops, lectures and seminars for correctional officers and Expo for released offenders. PREMI will build and operate the Centre for Behaviour Intervention for anger management, drug and alcohol addiction intervention, effective parenting, and domestic violence for all prisoners and the public. We want to partner with the government of Nigeria and other African countries to introduce standardised medical assistance to all prisoners and keep them and their environment healthy and clean.
PREMI will introduce effective parole and probation programmes to complement the amnesty programme in use for serving inmates and implement other programmes such as Mandatory Supervision, The Innocence Project, Second Chance, Bonding Programmes for Parents, and Mental Health and Mental Retardation Programme.
What is your perception of the management of correctional centres in Nigeria?
Prisons in Nigeria have not got it right all. I recall that the 2005 prison reform did not travel far before failing, and the change of name from prison to correctional facilities by President Muhammadu Buhari is not enough. PREMI has skilled volunteers working in Texas correctional facilities that effectively manage their departments at the units where they work. They are ready to help Nigeria and every country in Africa to implement the proposed reform.