This article analyses Iwawa, a rehabilitation centre for ‘delinquent’ young men in Rwanda. Like prisons, detention centres and refugee camps elsewhere, Iwawa is both a place of nurture and abandonment; of improving life and disallowing it. We argue that in order to grasp these tensions, we might pay attention to the role of death in disciplining those who are confined. A common way for these young men to address their experience was to say that they had to ‘win life’, and that those who did not win life would often die. Death as a possibility animates life in the camp and explains how the camp is at once a place of abandonment and improvement. The possibility of death also creates hierarchies in the camp between those who win and those who loose; those who become ideal developmental subjects of the Rwandan state and those who do not.