Life after prison

prisonI was really moved by my workmate Munyas generosity to Timmy, the man he found wandering up and down his street one Saturday afternoon who happened to be one of the nearly 2 500 prisoners recently released under presidential amnesty.

At the beginning of September, President Robert Mugabe released prisoners across the country to ease desperate overcrowding. Conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons are harsh. Besides food shortages, improper sanitation leads to inmates very often dying of diarrhoea and cholera.

Like the biblical good Samaritan, Munya took Timmy into his house for overnight accommodation, fed and prayed for him while listening to his dangerous criminal history.

When Munya spotted Timmy, the former daring armed robber had just discovered that his relatives, who once lived in the same street, had long left. His wife had died two years ago and he knew nothing about his childrens whereabouts since they never visited him when he was in jail.

The following day, Sunday, Munya introduced Timmy to his church. The congregation was kind enough to donate some clothing and substantial amount of money, giving him a head-start to a repentant life in his home town, almost seven years since he was removed from society.

Some of the recently freed prisoners had been locked up for various crimes for almost 25 years, in extremely inhumane conditions. After missing an entire lifetime while behind bars, they have a lot to catch up on.

Risky gesture

To many people, Munya had extended a rare and highly risky gesture to a stranger coming straight from prison.

The best I could have done would be to give the guy some bus fare and pocket money then shown him the nearest bus station to his home town. I would have never allowed him to sleep in my house, in case he goes back to his old ways that landed him in prison and some new tactics learnt from habitual criminals he lived with all these years, remarked Noah, a retired police officer.

My experience with previous major amnesties has shown that different communities had to tighten up their security in homes and neighbourhood, since most of the ex-prisoners easily found their way back to jail in a very short time. So, after the recent pardon, police are sending similar security warnings to the public. They are also reminding the former convicts that they are under strict surveillance.

I still remember that after being released during an earlier amnesty, some prisoners could not even reach their homes because they were nabbed for robbing supermarkets and buses in order to get bus fare and pocket money to travel back to their hometown.

But, Timmy was not tempted to return to crime that early despite being desperate and confused when he was discovered. Maybe he was still busy looking for the disgraced Zim dollars that he knew, quite unaware that the US dollars and SA Rand are now official currencies here!

Prison authorities, together with civic society organizations, should fully prepare for the release of prisoners before they are unexpectedly unleashed on frightened families and society at large. Unlike Munya, many people really find it difficult to happily welcome back friends, relatives let alone strangers coming from jail and having committed serious criminal offences. Masuku is Executive Director of Radio Voice of the People (VOP)

Post published in: Opinions

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