Ex-convicts search for another chance

Yvonne Mutava —
ENGLISH writer, Alexander Pope in his poem ‘An Essay on Criticism’ said, “To err is human but to forgive is divine.”  The poem was made in reference to literary critics during Pope’s day.

The quote highlights how difficult it is to forgive in day to day life. Former convict, 32-year-old Mary Mukaratirwa discovered this the hard way.

After being convicted of selling fake residential stands with a friend, Mukaratirwa was sentenced to four years behind bars. She took her two-year-old child with her as her relatives were not prepared to assume responsibility of the little one.

They were bitter due to her shameful acts that had dragged the name of the family into disrepute, they cut ties with her. She endured the pain of isolation behind bars for four years. Not even a single relative visited her during that period.

When it was time to go back home, the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) had to intervene to facilitate in mending relations with her family. lt took three years of going back and forth between the two parties before the family could accept her back.

“After serving my sentence, it took me three years to reunite with my relatives. My family members could not believe that life at ‘college’ had reformed me,” said Mukaratirwa.

She has been yearning for support and only a few relatives are prepared to offer that.

“No one visited me when I was in prison, neither did they feel for my only child. I was wrong but was it also fair for my innocent child to be punished for my sins?” she said.

There are many who are facing similar circumstances as relatives struggle to deal with their own’s misdeeds. Zacro works with the Zimbabwe Republic Police Public Relations department and chiefs in fostering peace and reconciliation between ex-convicts, victims and families.

Zacro Programmes Director, Mr Walter Otis Tapfumaneyi said the process of reintegration is not easy as in most cases, families will be bitter.

He highlighted that at times, the effort required to reconcile concerned parties depends on the crime commited, with those convicted of murder being the most affected.

“In some cases families are very welcoming. However, it is different with cases of murder as families and victims will be bitter to even approach them.

“Our aim as Zacro is to ensure that we create a crime free environment through rehabilitating the prisoner and reintegrating them into society,” Mr Tapfumaneyi said.

Their rehabilitation also includes providing assistance to start self help projects. Mukaratirwa’s uncle who preferred to remain anonymous became a link between her and the entire family. He said it is difficult to face reality when a close relative commits a crime as they would have breached trust.

“As a family we were disappointed by Mary’s behaviour and it took us some time to get over it. However, after serving her punishment we had no other option but to accept and welcome her. We believe she is now reformed,” he said.

A former convict, Elton Busha, who served five years in Mutare Remand Prison believes that acceptance is a crucial indicator of forgiveness and this fosters an orderly society.

“The society that we are in today is filled with ignorance and segregation. But I believe the best way to avoid habitual criminals is through giving each other support and second chances,” said Busha.

He believes the support he got while in prison from a few relatives made a difference for him to find his way back into society. With such support, Busha found a way to reformation and started his own family.

Citing the benefits of finding acceptance among former convicts, American organisation Urban Institute stated that such people are more likely to reform.

“Twenty-six percent of released prisoners in Cleveland cited ‘support from family’ as the most important factor in staying out of prison, three times those who mentioned employment (8 percent) or housing (7 percent),” the oragnisation said in its 2008 research article.

Previous studies have found that men who returned from prison to live with their wives and children fared much better than those who either lived alone or returned to live with a parent.

In Europe, a week dubbed ‘Restorative Justice Week’ is held to “emphasize healing in victims, accountability of offenders, and the involvement of citizens in creating healthier, safer communities. The goal is to reach meaningful, satisfying, and fair outcomes through inclusion, open communication and truth.

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