When Reon Schutte stood on the Creston High School stage, the words that spilled from his lips weaved a tale of years of physical and mental imprisonment, and how he overcame both.
Schutte, 52, was a prisoner of war in 1992 apartheid-riddled Zimbabwe before he was pardoned by the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
According to www.reonschutte.com, Schutte’s website, “an elite South African Special Forces soldier, Reon was captured in 1992 and spent nearly 13 years as a prisoner of war in Zimbabwe’s infamously brutal Chikurubi prison. ... And learned forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance of circumstances and the ability to reprogram his mind for ultimate freedom.”
“The key,” according to the website, “is choice, a powerful tool to which every human has access at every moment and that is our ticket to freedom, regardless of the situation.”
As Schutte shared his story, he said he chose to move from hatred and fear to acceptance and realization to students and staff of CHS, as well as other members of the community. His story included how he managed to overcome the stress of two and a-half hours of waiting for daily beatings.
“People who were making noises were beaten. Of course, the closer the noise came means it’s your time. ... And, I think, it’s not the actual beating now that’s going to kill me. It’s the wait.
“So, I said to myself, just chill out,” said Schutte. “One morning, ... they (came to) beat us, and then they’re walking out. Wait a minute. That’s weird. That’s the first morning in years that I hadn’t been beaten. ... Next morning, same thing. I thought to myself that you can reprogram, recondition your mind.”
Schutte realized during his imprisonment he still had control of his mind.
He said when he chose to release his fear of the guards, the beatings stopped.
When he realized he would survive on a-half cup of rice and cabbage a day, he stopped obsessing about not having enough to eat.
His story was enough to move some, if not all, of the CHS student population.
“I thought it was incredibly fantastic. It really opened my eyes, made me realize how grateful I should be to the things in my life, and not worry so much about the little things,” said Kimberly Alley, 16.
Schutte used his newfound mentality to overcome the 12 years and eight months in a windowless cell meant to house 12 men, but sheltered 50.
He now gives inspirational speeches all over the globe.
“I thought he was really good. I was really impressed with his story because, like, someone who went through all of that, they probably would be very bitter, and he’s very at peace,” said Bryanna Daggett, 17. “He has a very positive energy about him, and that’s hard to imagine after, like, 13 years in a place like that. So, I was just really impressed with it.”