Ex-con’s horror story

Grace Ngwaru’s relatives made her life unbearable. Having spent seven years behind bars, in what she described as “hell on earth” at Chikurubi female prison, Ngwaru said she woke up to reality on December 26, 2012 when she walked out of the huge prison walls.

Grace Ngwaru
Grace Ngwaru

Convicted for stock theft in 2007 and sentenced to nine years imprisonment, three of which were suspended, the mother of three hesitantly told her story to The Zimbabwean.

She took a deep breath before she said: “I did not steal the cow. It belonged to me and my late husband. But his elder brother took advantage of me and said I had stolen the beast because I refused to let him inherit me as his wife. It was a way of fixing me for rejecting him.”

Following her husband’s death in 2005, she decided to sell one of the family’s beasts with the consent of her husband’s younger brother so that she could pay her children’s school fees.

“The elder brother reported to the police that one of the beasts was stolen. I was convicted together with my husband’s younger brother. Unfortunately, he died in prison,” she said.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs secretary Virginia Mabhiza early this year told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs that the ministry’s allocation from treasury to feed prisoners was not adequate.

$21 million

“In order to feed prisoners on the prescribed standard dietary scale as prescribed in Statutory Instrument 96 of 2012, the ministry requires $21 million for the whole year against the allocated $2,5 million for prisoners’ rations,” said Mabhiza.

Officials from the justice ministry who spoke under oath before a Justice Portfolio Committee, revealed that more than 100 prisoners had died in detention since January due to malnutrition and related illnesses caused by food shortages and natural causes.

Social outcast

Taken in by well-wishers and given a place to stay in village head Joram Machingauta’s area, Ngwaru said she had not seen her eldest son since being released.

“I understand that he was told not to associate with me because I would influence him to become a thief. He is not allowed to visit me,” said Ngwaru.

She expressed gratitude to the Female Prisoner Support Trust for the training and assistance it offered to ex-convicts. Referring to FEMPRIST Executive Director, Rita Nyamupinga as ‘mother’, Ngwaru said she was trained in a low capital initiative: hairdressing.

“Besides getting blankets, pots and foodstuff to use when I began staying alone, I was trained in hairdressing as a starting point of integrating me back into society. The community was hesitant to associate with me at first but now I have established relationships with the majority of them and I have blended well,” she said, adding that relatives of incarcerated persons are the main culprits that perpetrate stigma to ex- convicts.

Ngwaru planted maize on the land allocated to her by the village head and she is expecting to harvest not less than a tonne of maize. “FEMPRIST gave me the support that I needed and boosted my morale such that I managed to plant maize,” she said.

Farming success

“I am confident that I have enough to feed myself and my other child, the only one that I have at this moment. The other child who is a girl got married when I was in prison at a very young age.”

President Robert Mugabe last month issued an amnesty order which led to the release of nearly 2,000 prisoners, 503 of whom were women.

Nyamupinga said it was important for society to integrate ex- convicts and capacitate them so that they are able to look after themselves and their families.

Formed in 2011 with the mandate to assist female convicts in prisons, especially those due for release, FEMPRIST aims at reducing stigma and discrimination and ensure integration of the ex- convicts back into society.

“We provide counselling services to both the prisoner, their families and their communities to facilitate their acceptance within society,” she said.

She said some families pretended they had accepted ex- convicts back into the family, only to reject them because they were not engaged in any income generating initiative to sustain their livelihood.

“They have already paid the price and society should support them by all means possible because when we judge them again, we are imposing an even stiffer sentence,” she said.

She urged society to avoid name calling those that have served jail term because they would have gone through psychological trauma because of their harsh living condition while serving jail sentences.

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