Levi Flomo, 27, had a life-changing brush with the law. He found himself in Monrovia Central Prison in January 2019, after a neighbor accused him of rape. He ended up spending more than three years in pre-trial detention, being released in April 2022, after the courts declared a nolle prosequi for lack of evidence.
“Jail life is very bad,” he told UNDP in June 2022. “It is not good, but it happens for a reason.”
He was one of the very lucky pre-trial detainees who benefited from skills training offered by Liberia’s Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR), with support from UNDP and funding from Sweden and Ireland. These trainings are usually reserved for convicted prisoners to help them reform and re-integrate back into society after serving their prison sentences.
“We noted that some good guys were in prison, and he was one of them. His prison record was clean, and he was very willing to learn. He is a very blessed young man,” said Mr. Joseph G. Sumo, Coordinator of Rehabilitation Centre of the BCR.
“We consider him a success story because he came to us with no skills, but he left equipped with skills that he is using gainfully to make an income that can support his family,” added Mr. Sumo.
Levi was trained in tailoring, a skill his father – a tailor, had tried to teach him over the years to no avail. He has now decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and is working in his father’s tailoring business specializing in making a wide variety of bags, including back packs.
“I felt very bad when my son, my first living child, was arrested. I felt bad to see him in such trouble,” said Mr. Daniel Levi Flomo.
Levi is the third child in his family but is more like the first born after his two elder siblings died prematurely. Levi himself is the father of a six-year-old son, who currently lives with his grandparents.
Flanked by his parents and other siblings as well as an uncle during our visit to their business on Pipeline Road in Monrovia’s Paynesville neighborhood, Levi was optimistic and determined to use his newly acquired skills to make a living for himself and his son, as well as supplement the larger family’s income.
“This training has changed my life in a way that I cannot explain. What encourages me is that I saw friends doing tailoring and succeeding at it. I must now stay away from problems and focus on my new life,” he vowed.
He plans on re-investing his tailoring income and saving as much as possible so that he can re-unite with his son in December 2022, and be able to provide for all his needs, including schooling.
Before being arrested, Levi was like many young men in Liberia; he had dropped out of school (due to lack of school fees) and was employed in the highly liquid but dangerous motorbike taxi business. He had even suffered an accident and injured one of his legs.
Prison detention changed his perspective. He says he is now satisfied to make and trade in bags to the great delight of his father. “I am happy to have my son back and very, very proud to be doing things together with him,” said the father.
Both father and son however regret the fact that Levi cannot return home because of possible retaliation from his accusers. Since he was a pre-trial detainee, and not a convicted person, the BCR could not proactively engage in his re-integration back into his community.
Levi currently sleeps on wooden work benches lined with carton boxes in the water-logged premises of the tailoring shop, battling mosquitoes and cockroaches. However, he is willing to pay the price to turn around his life and that of his family.