Reflections after my 39th arrest

My name is Jenni Williams, national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). I am persecuted for being a human rights defender, just getting over my 39th arrest and recovering from my 3rd stint in a Zimbabwean jail as a unconvicted prisoner.

Jenni Williams
Jenni Williams

Arrested on the 21st of September World Peace Day, I spent 2 days in horrific conditions at Bulawayo Central Police and then 10 days at Mlondolozi female prison in Khami complex. This brings my tally to 73 days of my life spent in jails wearing the bright green dolly rocker tunic of a remand prisoner.

Despite so many arrests, the state has been unable to criminalise my right to peaceful protest so they through a particular officer with personal grudges have now resorted to criminal charges of kidnapping and theft. Anyway that is just a bit of background, the real reason I write this is to make a heartfelt plea to Zimbabweans.

In Zimbabwean jails, you have nothing to do except watch and SEE what happens and to talk to other prisoners. Life in prison is dreary, many nights spent on hard floors, dirty blankets, stinking cells, long hours (16 hours) of lock down in small overcrowded cells can surely drive one up the wall. I slept next to murderers, car jackers, thieves , fraudsters, prostitutes, all of them human beings trying to survive.

I was not there to judge them but to share in the battle to eke out some form of dignity for oneself and avoid being harassed or beaten or tortured by prison guards. Counting the hours and days in your head or watching how the shadows change as the sun sets as you are not allowed to know the time becomes a favourite past time of many.

A prison is supposed to be a place for correction and reform , but Zimbabwe’s prisons become places of slow death and places where one’s dignity and self esteem are stripped. I have seen none of the correction and reform except forced labour or nonsensical things like the daily watering down to clean the 12×25 meter concrete yard.

During 2008, time in prison was hell as there was such widespread hunger and skeletons habited most of Zimbabwe’s jails. Things have improved somehow in terms of supply of food in Mlondolozi but I am afraid to say the food is badly cooked and hungry eyes tell the stomach that it cannot finish the meal served on plastic plates as it is so unappetising.

Sadza and spinach is such a simple meal to prepare if cooked in clean pots with clean water and with care but both are lacking at Mlondolozi.

The sadza of an indescribable colour with relish of either spinach drowning in it water and not a drop of oil or beans swimming in an Olympic pool of liquid are the 11:30 lunch and 3pm dinner menu. Porridge too is a burden to eat as it is cooked in yesterday’s unwashed pots and 20% of inmates have that magic item called a spoon.

Those with the other scare item called a toothbrush use one side for brushing and another for dribbling porridge into their mouths. And so I learn that eating is half hunger and a whole lot to do with how appetising the food is, the result, inmates don’t get their basic right to a decent cooked nutritious meal. Due to my friends and relatives I am able to get a meal and something for breakfast delivered to me daily but as before I find I cannot eat in those conditions and lost 4kgs despite spending most of the day sitting in the tiny yard.

One appetite killer is the thought that someone in the cells who does not have relatives to visit and cannot stomach prison food will go for days without a morsel. My colleague Magodonga spent many meal times urging me to eat so I could take my antibiotics to treat the infection of my recent surgery. There was no bathing or shower facilities in Hotel Central Police station and my pleas for clean water for me to cleaning my wounds for 3 days fell on deaf ears, it was if I was asking for a rock from the moon. By the grace of God the antibiotics worked, and the infection has cleared.

I have three things to ask of anyone reading this note but I am no expert but just sharing based on experience. Firstly talking to convicted prisoners, it becomes so clear that that people can be too trusting and this sets them up for a fall. Please take time to study and analyse people and take more seriously advice on how to prevent crime or carjacking. Don’t leave your keys in the ignition and step out. Don’t trust strangers no matter the gender, smile or eloquence. I am not saying go through life being suspicious and lose confidence in the basic good of a human but take the time to THINK before you act. This will and can save you from injury, harm death and or even losing your property.

Following on from the basic good point, some of the crimes that resulted in prisoners being given the yellow dress of a convicted person could have been solved by facilitated dialogue processes. Again, I ask us to think and try to find other ways than to send someone to a prison that cannot feed them in a country that will not reform or correct them. Instead of prisoners coming out as reformed members of society they re-enter society as hardened criminals with little hope of being reformed.

I am also talking to employers of domestic staff. The police and justice systems in our country are not working as they should so in the meantime society must find another way to peacefully deal with crime that involves genuine reform and correction and restitution. By the way I have had lots stolen from me and many break ins but because of who I am, I am deprived of my right to walk into a police station and report a crime as it has resulted in my personal persecution for my human rights work.

If you have a relative in jail, please visit them, they need to see you even if you have nothing to give except your smile and a teaspoon or an empty container to use as a lunch box! If you can donate food or practical things to Mlondolozi for the 100 women there, please do so but make sure there is a record of the donation or demand to give it to a prisoner direct or through charitable organisations. Send body cream but not face cream.

Don’t send deodorant or things that women like to use to make themselves pretty and feminine because for strange undisclosed reasons feeling feminine is not allowed. During my stints I normally coped by reading magazines or short simple romance novels and prisoners and guards alike had always loaned these books to read so it is something that you can do to help pass the day or night, while waiting for Zimbabwe’s slow wheels of justice to take their course.

May I take this opportunity to thank the many whom I know had me and my colleague in their prayers.

God bless Jenni

Action:

Support Mlondolozi Prison. Contact them directly on +263-9-64228

Or send your support via Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO):

Stand No 12922 Ndhlela Way, Mbare, Harare

+263-4-780401/3, 770046

+263-772-485851, 77212177, +263-773-133673

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

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