Pardoned prisoners speak

No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from, once said novelist Marry Anne Evans in her 19th century satire, Daniel Deronda.

And no one understands this better than Nyasha Kandira, a 22-year-old theft convict from Beatrice.

Having been convicted barely two months after his release on a Presidential amnesty in March, it appears the youthful Kandira is doomed in his unbecoming conduct and does not intend to quit.

“After close to a year in prison you would expect that one has repented but for him it’s like he saw nothing, he heard nothing and he learnt nothing,” says one of the guards at Harare Central Prison where Kandira is now serving a two-year sentence.

Yet in his own words, Kandira does not see himself at fault, but the world around him, his parents, the society and the economy are to blame.

“It wasn’t going to turn any other way for me except to return,” he said with a stone face, perched on the red floor in one of the penitentiary’s admin digs.

“I don’t get along with my stepmother so I found it hard to live with my parents after I was released.

“And without a proper education and a proper job, I didn’t have any other means to survive on my own but to steal.”

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Kandira’s story is that he returned to steal from the very prison which he had been set free from a month earlier.

“Like previously they caught me stealing a phone, this time from the house of one of the prison guards,” Kandira said.

Pressed on where he found the guts to steal from the very people who looked after him, Kandira inhaled deeply, as if to savour the aroma of burning crumps of lunchtime sadza which wafted through the door.

“I was hungry and when you are hungry you are not afraid of anything and you can do anything,” he finally answered.

“I was hoping I could find a phone, a laptop or something I could sell quickly to buy food.”

Kandira dropped from school at the age of 12 upon completing Grade 7.

Despite his hardened and brazen expression, Kandira accepts that he has a problem and longs for help.

“I do not enjoy it here, if only I could get assistance to learn a skill or start a business I am sure I would lead a normal life,” he says.

“If the economy was performing well maybe I would go and find a job, anything that would keep me away from crime, I will take.”

However, Kandira is just one of the many perpetual offenders who since the amnesty are already back in the dungeons.

According to Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, 44 of the 3 000 pardoned convicts are back in reformatory facilities across the country.  Prison officials say while the majority have been convicted on small crimes, the trend exposes the difficulties that convicts face in fitting back into society.

Such a scenario is typified by 33-year-old Hazvinei Tambara who before the amnesty had served five of a nine-year sentence for robbery.

Tambara had during his stay in prison defied odds to pass his “O” and “A” Level studies before attaining two diplomas in theology.

Yet with all the promise, Tambara still found it difficult to stay off crime, giving life to Mark Twain’s adage, “give man a reputation as an early riser and he can sleep till noon”.

“I know the wardens are disappointed because they expected better things from me, especially given the education I attained while I was in here,” he says.

“But you see, to survive you need a lot of things like food and clothes and having an education does not mean that all of these things are readily available to you.

“The next thing is you resort to the bad ways because you just want to survive for that day.”

Tambara also says the society, including his relatives and wife, have not embraced him, thereby living him in the cold.

“In an economy like ours it’s very difficult to find a job and without the support of your family, it becomes even more difficult,” he says.

“I have been in prison for too long I have lost touch of the reality and even if I had the desire to make things work I need someone to take me by the hand and lead me.

“And I am not just saying this for myself but for others who are in my situation because the truth is that no one wants to be here in prison.”

Tambara feels betrayed by non-governmental and church organisations who pledge to assist prisoners, only to disappear when they are released.

Another pardoned convict who has since returned to the cells, Fungai Rondozayi (31), blamed social neglect.

“When I was released I was happy and all was well for me but I soon faced realities when I got home,” he says.

“After spending eight months in jail, my wife left and stopped paying rent for a small room we rented in Chitungwiza.

“So when I got there the landlord was furious and demanding his money so I had to look for a job.”

Rondozayi then started doing part-time jobs to raise money to pay rent.

“I then met someone who wanted me to mould bricks for him but I didn’t have enough tools to do the job.

“So I borrowed a drum from someone but the person would not lend me so I ended up stealing it from him and that led to my arrest.”

Questions have been raised about the criteria used to rehabilitate convicts.

As such, policy makers have been challenged to look into the issue and adjust the system accordingly so that it can rehabilite offenders properly.

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  • takunda nigel

    If there could be established some kind of Social Department in Law enforcement so that released convicts could talk to someone on a regular basis then some help could be given to preempt repeat offences .
    On the basis of such a regime , it would be possible to talk to people who can provide employment to ex-convicts to take them on as they would be monitored in the help therapy department . Hopefully this would be less costly than replay of rearrest , trial , reimprisonment plus the social cost to family and nation .