Margret, you’re a successful barrister but you found yourself sitting with your son on the other side of the dock. Tell us what happened.
I have been a barrister for 30 years, and my husband and I have four children. We are also pastors of a church in East London. One of my sons at the age of 13 decided that our way of bringing him up was too strict and so he wanted more freedom and more fun.
From 14 onward the behaviour change was really noticeable. By 15 we were going to the police station further down the road, then to the magistrate’s courts. Sitting with him in court was painful and debilitating as it was on a side of the court room I was not used to sitting on.
Our son then progressed to the highest court in the land, where he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in respect of one matter, in which he had been stabbed multiple times. It crushed me and it crushed the family.
What have been the key things you learnt as a parent through that experience?
The keys things which I have learnt is ‘know your children.’ I knew my files inside out and little did I know my children like that. i thought that they would just follow our lead as we did our parents’. But each child is different and should follow their own natural bent and inclinations with guidance. We were busy, hard-working middle-class parents and so outside work and church life, had little time to do much else though we did go on nice family holidays and took our children to the park regularly when they were younger.
I also learnt that if one of your children has lots of energy you have to take more time to make sure that their time is constructively filled with a range of activities to cultivate new skills and enhance abilities.
We should all educate ourselves about gun and knife crime. We cannot have more than 100 children dying each year, increasing numbers in prisons, parents hurting and society in turmoil and not seek to help. One way I am doing this is through new practitioner, parents and prison workshops which I have just started rolling out.
If there are young people we know who are caught up in gangs, how should we pray for them and what should we do practically?
If there are young people caught up in the negative stereotyping of society and their own negative thinking and aspirations, we can pray that God in His infinite mercy would break them free from the shackles of the past and the negative influences and friends around them. If they are the negative influence we can pray that God would save them and show them how much He loves them. We can pray that our young, misguided youth would come to know the Lord for themselves, develop a personal relationship with Him and would lead many others to Him. And we can pray that they would find something useful to do with their hands that is work: that they would be gainfully employed in a job or start their own business with their entrepreneurial skills.
Your story is one of hope as your son came out of prison and turned his life around. How do we cling to hope even in the darkest of times?
We cling to hope even in the darkest of times because we have a God who is ever faithful, who is hovering over this darkness to bring the breakthrough we desire. Our children will understand that this current problem will not last.
We entreat God for revival and ask Him to bring back the ‘missing part’ to humanity – the part that cares for one another and about one another. The part that loves his fellow man as his brother; the part that loves God more than any other thing and so will honour the sixth commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’
Margaret Bankole is a Christian minister, social advocate and barrister. Her book about her son, ‘My Story … but then is it really my story?’ can be purchased from margaretbankole.com.