Andrew Moyo Leisure Reporter—
Tucked away behind the high walls and razor wire of local prisons are men and women of immense talent, but caught on the wrong side of the law, convicted and deprived of their freedom. In the public eye, these people are a bunch of good for nothing criminals whose only skillset is breaking the law, which is why even upon release they tend to suffer from stereotyping leading to reintegration difficulties.
With the prison services having revamped their approach towards convicts, several rehabilitation programmes have been introduced in order to equip such inmates with skills they can use to earn a living without resorting to criminality.
Among these rehabilitation programmes is sports and recreation, which has seen hundreds of talented artistes in various capacities being discovered in correctional facilities across the country.
There are inmates who are excellent actors, poets, musicians, fine artistes and dancers, who have taken advantage of various platforms at their disposal to showcase their abilities.
Starbrite is one of the platforms through which prisoners have been showcasing their artistic prowess and recently, participants of this year’s edition had their boot camp at Harare Central Prison.
These convicts proved that they have what it takes to compete with other talents on the outside as they pulled off exceptional performances in various categories during auditions.
They went through the same training procedures, which their free counterparts had to endure for a week early this month.
The only difference was that the prisoners had to go through all the paces in a single day.
The Sunday Mail Leisure attended the prison auditions and spoke to some of the inmates.
Most of them opened up on how the rehabilitation programmes in conjunction with Starbrite had provided them with opportunities to showcase their talents.
Charles Matope, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence at Chikurubi Farm Prison for motorcycle theft, said he only realised that he was a talented artiste after he had been incarcerated.
He has so far served nine years.
“I started doing music after being encouraged by rehab officers and now I can play a guitar while at the same time I have sharpened my dancing skills.
“I am hoping that when I get out, I will be able to take up music as a profession,” said Matope.
Another inmate, Calvin Machingaifa who is serving a five-year sentence for fraud at the same prison, said rehabilitation was shaping them to be better individuals with skills that would come in handy in future.
“If it wasn’t for these rehabilitation programmes, we would become animals and I think we would commit worse crimes upon release.
“Starbrite has helped significantly. Since the programme is broadcast on television, people in the community will also get to see that we have talented individuals in prisons,” said Machingaifa.
Last year, Starbrite overall winner for the Zimdancehall category, Gerald Masango, was an inmate at Harare Central Prison.
The second runner-up for the special category was also a comedy group from Harare Central Prison – Madhonza Makuru – while gospel outfit Devine Touch, also from the same prison, were finalists in the choral category.
Another group, which has had a significant impact is Tehila Worshipers from Chikurubi Farm Prison, which at one time came first in Star FM’s choral competition.
They have since released an album.
There are instances in which they have been given the leeway to perform in Harare’s Central Business District while selling their CDs.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services public relations officer Peter Chaparanganda revealed that despite having vast talent in prisons, their major challenge is funding.
“We do not have musical instruments in most of our prisons and we rely on donations. Last year, the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe donated instruments to Harare Central Prison and this has gone a long way in helping us nurture talent.
“We are going to be launching three albums in October, two of which are gospel and one is Sungura. Leonard Zhakata helped out during the recording of these projects,” said Chaparanganda.
He also said prisoners’ visibility on TV programmes like Starbrite also helped in social reintegration.
“When individuals are released from prison, they are labelled bandits most of the time, but when people see these prisoners on TV competing with ordinary citizens, it’s easier for them to accept them back into society.”
Besides sports and recreation, there are also other components of rehabilitation and these include psychological rehabilitation, moral or spiritual rehabilitation, skills training and academic education.
“The major reason why we carry out the rehabilitation initiatives is to curb repeat offending. So, we are trying to impart them with skills so that when they are released, they will have a starting point.
“For this to be a success, however, we also need the community to get involved in terms of accepting released prisoners back into society.
“It is usually difficult for an ex-convict to find a job because people will be judging him/her based on his/her previous record. But we are saying these people deserve a second chance.”
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