Serving out a prison sentence is difficult but Gift is glad a decision to change has brought him a better life
Living seemed harder after Gift Fihlani's mother passed away and his father lost his job shortly after, plunging the family into financial difficulty.
At the age of 15 he turned to smoking cigarettes and dagga and followed the influence of bad friends into a life of crime.
"My father couldn't afford to buy me the clothes that I wanted so my friend and I started robbing people for money and cell phones but it was not enough," Gift openly confesses.
Out of greed for more, he and his friend started stealing from houses in the wealthier suburbs from age 16.
Every Sunday Gift would go to church and listen to the pastor preach about Jesus, wondering to himself whether everything he heard was true.
"I was curious to know if God could help me so I took the Bible and read it. I wanted to know more about Jesus and the salvation he offers," Gift explains.
Although he learnt about Jesus, Gift admits that he never thought to make God a priority in his life until he found himself in prison.
"My life was a mess and I didn't even notice that it was falling apart. Now I see things differently and I have realised that everything I am going through is because of God's plan for my life," he says.
"While I was outside I did not think about prison and the consequences of my sin, even though I knew I was doing a lot of wrong things."
Gift's first arrest in 2011 resulted in bail but a year later he was caught trespassing and arrested for malicious damage of property, resulting in a nine-year prison sentence for all his crimes.
In the solitude of his cell, Gift remembered back to the fun times he had in Sunday School and the free life he had taken for granted when he stayed out of trouble.
"When you are in prison you need God more than ever," he says.
"After my arrest I realised that I needed to change for the better and that God was the only one who could help me do this."
It was then that Gift made the decision to become a "born-again" Christian, meaning that he allowed the Holy Spirit of God to come into His life and help him think differently.
As Romans chapter 12, verse 2, confirms, "Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
"When I made the decision to become a born-again Christian, I chose to always think about God in everything I am doing – He comes first! I believe in Him and I believe He can bless me even in prison," Gift explains.
"Since then, I quit drinking and smoking drugs and I do not even stress about money anymore. I stopped thinking about fast cash and now respect every person I meet.
"God helped me to make the changes I needed to in my life. I am even willing to apologise to the victims of my crimes and ask them to forgive me. I am willing to do whatever they want to show them how sorry I am."
When Gift's father came to visit him in prison he was proud to see the incredible changes in his son and they both shared together what God had done in their lives.
Gift has new purpose even in prison, realising that God has a great plan for his life in helping others.
"I want to help young boys who are still doing crime or smoking drugs to stop and become better citizens to the community," he concludes.
"I would also like to tell others that they need Jesus now more than ever.
"Jesus is the only one who can change their hearts and their lives for the better and offer them eternal life with Him in heaven. They must know that Jesus loves them no matter what they have done. It is time to change, Jesus' arms are always open!" •