Impact Story: Lesley Thomas
Les’ journey with Gender Reconciliation began in an unlikely place; Medium B Male Section at Pollsmoor Prison where he was serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. The year was 2007 and for the first time female and male inmates at Pollsmoor where brought together for what was to be a transformative process which led to breakthroughs in mutual understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation across the gender divide.
“It was a forum where I was able to speak to my own pain [as a man]. Prison is not that kind of environment. The workshop was an opportunity I used to release all that I carried – even from before prison growing up without a father. It was my space.”
In the Gender Reconciliation workshop, the floodgates opened for Lesley. “I felt safe. The facilitators held the space. This was what I had prayed for. I was able to speak about my family, growing up without a father…and I listened to other people open up. Other men opened up.” Through dialogue and interactive exercises, contemplative practices and group process, Gender Reconciliation workshop participants engage on some of the most divisive and seemingly intractable gender issues. The highly experiential methodology enables participants to openly share and address issues rarely discussed aloud.
Les grew up in a single-parent household, like so many other young men from the Cape Flats in the Western Cape, South Africa and speaks about the pain and challenge of growing up without his father.
“I saw the healing taking place. You don’t know until you experience it. I began to see my father in a different light – never having had an understanding of who he was. I developed more compassion for the prison warders. I looked at people differently. Everyone needs help and goes through their own pain.”
The sense of freedom and relief in speaking truth to his pain is something Les describes as “true inner peace.” “I could speak as a victor and not a victim,” he concluded. In 2008, Les was released on parole and has since completed the Gender Reconciliation facilitation training and is now a certified GRI facilitator. Les is currently a leading facilitator of peace-building workshops and Alternatives to Violence programs that work with prison inmates and other socially challenged groups in South Africa.
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