Pardoned Prisoner Finds Purpose in Guyana

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Shermon Bobb helps a customer
Shermon Bobb helps a customer.
Youth gets chance to start anew
“I feel like a bird loosed out of a cage. I am never coming back here.”

August 2016—Last year, President David Granger of Guyana pardoned 40 prison inmates who were non-violent, first-time offenders. The action gives the newly released prisoners a second chance to pursue productive lives and leave the past behind.

The pardon gave 21-year-old Shermon Bobb a whole new outlook.

When he was 2 years old, Bobb was abandoned by his father. Seven years later, he witnessed his mother’s murder at the hands of his stepfather.

Traumatized by all that he’d experienced, Bobb eventually got involved with the wrong crowd and became rebellious. By the age of 14, he had dropped out of school. A few years later, he was sent to prison for a non-violent crime.

While in prison, Bobb witnessed several horrific acts, including the murder of a fellow inmate. He also came face-to-face with his mother’s murderer—the only father he’d ever known.

He almost couldn’t believe it when he found out he had been pardoned and his four-year sentence was reduced by two years. 

“I cried when I heard that I was getting pardoned. I refused to sleep the night before I got out, in case they changed their mind,” Bobb recalls.

Today, almost one year since his pardon, Bobb is on the right track, thanks largely to USAID’s Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) project. The project provides at-risk youth with counseling, mentorship and training as well as educational and employment opportunities to support their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

After completing the project’s Work Ready Now and Be Your Own Boss programs, where he learned life skills and received vocational and entrepreneurship training, Bobb and his coach devised a mid-term livelihood plan based on his dream of owning a retail business. As a stepping stone, he secured a job with one of Guyana’s well-known department stores.

“I am really enjoying my job. My supervisor treats me like everyone else and makes me feel like part of the team,” says Bobb, who has been performing so well for the past six months that he is gradually being entrusted with additional responsibilities.

He is especially appreciative of the mentorship and one-on-one coaching, which are critical pillars of the SKYE program. Bobb credits this psychosocial support with helping him to leave his past behind and look toward the future.

“I could not have made it this far without my coach, who always believed in me and supported me every step of the way. This program helped me to become more responsible and to reach for my goals. I am truly grateful to be a part of the SKYE family,” he says.

Although he has not given up on his dream of one day owning his own business, Bobb makes it clear that he has no intention of quitting his job until his business is self-sufficient and making significant profit.

Happy to have a second chance in life, Bobb is leaving nothing to chance. “I feel like a bird loosed out of a cage. I am never coming back here,” he says.

USAID’s SKYE project expands education, skills building, and employment opportunities for at-risk youth in Guyana, with the goal of reducing youth crime and violence by strengthening young people's economic participation and civic engagement. To date, the five-year project, which ends in September 2016, has provided targeted alternative sentencing, work-readiness training, and livelihood coaching activities for 2,900 youth aged 15-24.


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