The mother of one, who was convicted in 2011 and served a one year sentence for a crime she says she did not commit, attributes her jail time to her economic status. She is passionate about sports development in her community and says failure to pay the required legal fees for a lawyer is the reason she was convicted and spent a year confined behind prison walls.
“Real criminals are roaming the streets and they are the ones whom you see in court one day and out the next day because they pay their way out,” said a bitter Tsedemu, recalling her experience while she was serving her one year sentence.
“There are a lot of convicts serving jail terms for crimes that they did not even commit and I am one such person.”
Accused of rape
The community volunteer says the experience not only left her a wounded person emotionally, it also left her even poorer.
“I sold the few belongings that I had,” she said. “I sold my mother’s cow to raise over $1,200 for legal fees to pay for a lawyer who did not even attend court when I was sentenced,” she said tearfully.
A first time offender who was sentenced to five years imprisonment, four of which were suspended on condition of good behaviour and that she would not commit a similar offense, Tsedemu made the headlines in 2011 when she appeared in court facing charges of rape.
“Everything was stage managed and I was framed,” said Tsedemu, adding that her conviction was a result of ‘sour grapes’ on the part of her former employer.
Could not forgive
“The girl behind all this came and apologised but because of what I went through, there was a time when I vowed that I would not forgive her,” said Tsedemu. “I am glad for the support received from friends, colleagues from United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and above all the Female Prisoners Support Trust.”
“We received counselling and this was the greatest contribution because the majority of especially first time offenders were failing to cope with prison life,” said Tsedemu. She said like many convicts, she would cry all day and had developed bitterness towards her community and life in general.
“If they do not receive counselling, convicts, especially those who would have been wrongfully convicted, have the potential to kill themselves. Others become real criminals because they would have failed to prove their innocence. Some then commit crime for vengeance.”
Rita Nyamupinga, the director of an organisation working with the Female Prisoners’ Support Trust (FEMPRIST) said failure to help female convicts after their release from prison stigmatised them and made it difficult for them to reintegrate into society.
“Counselling plays an important part because it prepares them for rehabilitation and reintegration back into society,” she said. “It becomes very difficult for families to accept women who have served jail terms because society associates crime with men, so these women are viewed as very bad.”
Since the formation of her organisation four years ago, most women that they had worked with had reintegrated well back into society, although the main challenge was that the majority of them had difficulty picking up the pieces financially.
“Most women either find that their spouses have deserted them while with others, their families disintegrate and they have difficulty financially,” said Nyamupinga.
She said like Tsedemu most women sell their properties as a way of raising money for lawyers and by the time they are convicted, they are as poor as a church mouse.
“This is the situation that they come back to and their homes are no longer the best place to be,” said Nyamupinga, adding that there are women that have said they would rather go back to prison because of their financial status.
“Government should ensure the provision of legal representation for the poor for justice to prevail,” she added.
Section 70 of the constitution states that any person accused of an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. In 70 (c), the constitution provides for suspects “to be given adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence”.
“The accused has a right to choose a legal practitioner and, at their own expense, to be represented by that legal practitioner and be represented by a legal practitioner assigned by the State and at State expense, if substantial injustice would otherwise result.”
FEMPRIST assists female convicts while they are still in prison, but it targets especially those due for release. The organisation offers counselling to the prisoner and their family, and it works with the community as a way of facilitating their acceptance by their families.
Lice and dirt
Nyamupinga emphasised the importance of investing in peace building and restorative justice projects as part of the rehabilitation process.
“We teach the women various skills – such as arts and crafts, gardening, poultry, hairdressing and pre-school teaching,” she said. “People have negative perceptions about prison life and they do not want them because of the thinking that the prison environment is full of lice and dirt.”
FEMPRIST therefore provides soaps, lotions, sanitary wear and other necessities for female prisoners so that they can be presentable in and outside prison.
“We offer them the basics because ours is a non-profit making organisation which is dependent on well-wishers for funding,” said Nyamupinga.
Tsedemu said the mealie meal, soap, sugar, cooking oil and salt that she received from FEMPRIST when she was released had gone a long way in helping her start her life after prison. “I am back into voluntary sports coaching and I would like to thank ZIMPRST for giving me the pedestal to put into motion my journey of life,” she said.Post published in: News