I know there are many positive things I'm good at doing
A story from an 18-year-old boy placed in the educational correctional home in Tetovo
I am an only child; I have no brothers or sisters. My mother and father worked hard to raise me, but I grew up in a home that wasn’t always stable.
When my parents first started to fight, they would split up for a short time and then they would make up again. My mother often mentioned that she wanted to divorce my father and that she was going to leave, but in the end, they stayed together because of me. When they eventually separated, it didn't matter to me whether I stayed with my mother or my father, I was equally close to both, but I felt bad when they were not together, and it was hard for me when they eventual split up.
I don’t remember much about my early childhood. What I do remember is that my aunt bought me a bike, and I really loved to ride it. Though, I will never forget the day when I forgot to bring it in and left it out on the street. My mother got angry and broke it. It always made me really upset when they would break my toys.
I do remember when we moved to Montenegro - that is when I started school. My father was already working there, so my mother and I joined him. In the beginning, I really liked school, I was an excellent student, but around the age of 13 or 14, I started to mix with the wrong crowd and started doing senseless things. We were five or six friends. First, we tried cigarettes, then we tried this and that - that's when I started to get off track.
I really don’t know why we started to steal. I know now that it was a huge mistake. We started with petty theft. Then we started to steal cars. We were not looking for money, we never sold them. We just drove them around and would just leave them in some street to be found. We didn’t think much about it. We were bored and just did it for fun. It was foolish - I now know that. And I regret doing it.
During that time, my mother fell ill, my father worked a lot, and their quarrels were an everyday event. Our family’s financial situation was only one of the reasons for their arguments. Тhere were many reasons why they fought, but simply put, they just did not agree on anything. It was hard to deal with and I needed to get out of that environment. And so, I turned and went one way, they went the other. Looking back at the whole situation, I wasn’t able to stop and think about what I was doing, what would happen in one, two or three years later. I wasn’t thinking at all. I didn't take anything seriously, I just wanted to get out of the house, simply to get through the day.
While we were in Montenegro, the Center for Social Work imposed a measure of increased supervision. I had to check in with my assigned social worker at the center every two weeks. I was in seventh grade when we returned home. My social worker contacted the Center for Social Work in my hometown and the measure was transferred between the countries. I was assigned a new social worker and was expected to continue to check in. My new social worker told me that if I didn’t comply, she would have to refer me to an educational correctional facility. I don’t know why I didn’t comply. I didn’t take it seriously and continued the same path.
I know now that I should have taken it seriously. My social worker warned me several times, but the warnings didn’t help me. I kept stealing. At the time, I didn’t know what else to do. I had no direction didn’t have any idea about my future or other paths I could take. So eventually, I was sanctioned to the educational correctional facility.
At that time, the educational correctional facility where I am now was in its final stages of being built, so I was sent to the prison in Ohrid. To make matters worse, it was during the pandemic, so I was also quarantined for the first 16 days. They put me in a cell - four walls, an iron door and 22 bars - I counted them every day to pass the time. I kept asking myself ‘why has this happened to me’. I just kept repeating to myself, that I am better than this person waiting to get out.
After the quarantine, I was transferred to a room with a group of other children. We were there for a short time before being transferred to new the educational correctional home in Tetovo. Here, we study with the teachers, I have 10 subjects and school is going well. We also play sports, mostly football and basketball. We take care of the yard and garden. We plant trees, flowers, but also vegetables like potatoes and onions. In my free time, I learned how to cut hair and give all the children here a haircut.
One day a friend, here at the home, heard me freestyling in my room. I often sing and rap by myself. He suggested we write a song. It meant a lot to us when the staff at the home provided us with a room and a laptop and everything we need to record it. What mattered most was that they showed confidence in us and believed that we were trying to do something good. The composition is ours and we wrote the lyrics together. You know, rap has to rhyme. And it turned out to be a hit in our home. The lyrics are about life in the home - we used it to show appreciation for the support we were getting from police officers and educators.
As I get older, I look at life a little differently and think about the consequences. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had different support when I was younger – whether I would have taken the path. But it is what it is, and I have learned that I need to take responsibility for my future.
I have learned to appreciate the things I have and more importantly to appreciate myself. I recently had the opportunity to be part of some projects outside of home with other young people which has helped me to get a little more involved in society. I attended several seminars and most importantly I met many new friends.
I have learned to believe in myself and know that there are many things that I am good at doing. I will still need a lot of support, but I do have hope for myself and my future.
The story is part of the campaign “I am more than what happened” which is implemented within the frame of the programme “Just(ice) children – EU for juvenile and child-friendly justice” funded by the European Union and co-funded by UNICEF to support the Government reform efforts to ensure the justice system protects the rights of all children who come in contact with the law.