THERE is an old saying that the best things in life are free and at this moment there cannot be a greater truth than this for 33-year-old convict, Teboho Mohlaoli.
Mohlaoli has so far spent nine years behind bars and there is still four more years before he completes his 13 year sentence for housebreaking and theft.
The ancient proverb meant nothing for him back in 2005 when he embarked on a life of crime but nowadays there is nothing he would want more than to taste freedom. The freedom to go anywhere his feet can take him and the freedom to do any of those mundane things that those who have never been incarcerated take for granted.
Back in 2005, Mohlaoli was a dashing 20 year-old who regarded the world and everything in it as his oyster.
Maseru was one fine city filled with beautiful women, good food, beautiful cars, fine clothes and many cool spots to hang out with his loved ones. It was a world which was just there for the taking but there was just one small problem for Mohlaoli.
Such fine things always come at a price and Mohlaoli was just a Form D drop-out. As one Thaba Tseka youth who had not been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had no means of funding the extravagant tastes he had.
And so at that tender age of 20, Mohlaoli made his first forays into the world of crime, partnering with another man he had befriended in Maseru. They broke into homes, stole clothes and gave some of them to their girlfriends as presents. They even waylaid people returning home from pubs at night.
This went on for two years without any hitches. Mohlaoli’s luck ran out when he was finally caught and jailed for housebreaking and theft in 2007.
This should have been the Damascene moment when he exorcised his demons of crime. He did not. That time now stands out as a missed opportunity.
“I was young and vulnerable to bad influences,” Mohlaoli said in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times from his prison cell.
“I did not take that chance to repent because while in jail, I met some hardened criminals who talked me into joining a tougher gang outside upon my release less than a year later.”
Upon his release, he immediately linked up with dangerous criminals who gave him a gun and introduced him to serious crime.
The gang of eight targeted supermarkets, homes of wealthy people and kept their ears on the ground for any indications of where they could get money.
“One day we were in a bar when we heard one young man bragging about how rich his family was and the amount of money they kept in their Thetsane house. We then followed him before storming the house the next day.”
The gang tied up some family members and left two to direct them to the M50 000 which was kept in the house. The two also helped them withdraw another M7000 from an automated teller machine.
“After taking the money, we locked up everyone in a room and took their phones to foil any immediate attempt to contact the police. We also took a car which we later abandoned in Motimposo.”
He said for most of their robberies, they got tip-offs from security guards at the targeted premises, an employee or friend of a wealthy family.
“We had our eyes and ears in many places. There were some people who wanted to get back at their employers for various reasons. At times it was just greed that motivated our informants.”
But unlike, the cat with the proverbial nine lives, Mohlaoli had only one and in 2009, his world came crumbling down when he least expected it.
His new girlfriend had just given birth to their daughter when suddenly the police came knocking on his door.
Some of his colleagues who had been arrested the previous night in a heist had spilled the beans on other gang members leading to his arrest.
Thereafter, his conviction was swift and the Maseru Magistrates’ court sent him to the ‘slammers’ for 13 years and he has been inside since 2009.
“I have had all the time to clear my heard, beat myself up for my stupidity for the path I took to get the best things in life,” he says adding, that being in prison has taught him that the best things in life are freedom and the joy of honest hard work.
“I found peace which I never had in many years. I no longer fear that police will come after me. I have also realised that I gave myself unnecessary pressure with my insatiable love of fine things.”
He regrets being away from his children, saying his irresponsible behaviour may have cost his daughter a bright future after she got married at the age of 14.
“I let her down because when her grandmother died, she had no one. Her mother was working in South Africa and I know I should have been there. That is what good fathers do: they are there for their children and they don’t stay in jail.”
He hopes to work hard upon his release and become a good father to all his children.
The Officer-In- Charge of Maseru Maximum Correctional facility, Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa, says Mohlaoli was one of the many inmates who appeared to have turned a new leaf.
“He went back to school and passed his Cambridge Overseas Schools Certificate (COSC). He is optimistic about his future and has told me that he wants to join his relatives in a brick-making business after his release,” Supt Lebitsa says.
He says the government and the private sector should support Mohlaoli and others who transition from a life of crime by providing opportunities for them to undergo short courses that can empower them to start sustainable income-generating projects. The government can also help the ex-inmates to access start-up capital for the projects to keep them busy and productive.