Nothing Hollywood gives us can adequately portray a day in a prisoner’s life.
In reality, it is often a life of mind-numbing routine and an oppressive sameness that makes one day no different from the next.
For prisoners like Thomas Chirembwe, who is serving 230 years at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, it is a routine he can recount in his sleep.
In 2012, Chirembwe was found guilty of 21 counts of unlawful entry and rape for which he was sentenced to 290 years behind bars. Sixty years of his sentence was slashed via a Presidential pardon.
He has now served four years and three months.
It does not matter to him how many years he has been locked up. Chirembwe knows that barring a full amnesty, he is in for the long haul. He will likely leave the prison cell for the cemetery.
During the recent Prisons and Correctional Services Family Week, The Sunday Mail Society had a chat with him.
“I remember when I was sentenced, I lost all hope,” he said. “I knew I was going to be sentenced and given some years behind bars but I never thought I would be given 290 years behind bars. With time however, I started accepting it and moved on with my life.”
Chirembwe’s day begins at 8am when the cell doors are opened.
This is the time that they clean their cells, bath and wash their clothes. Shortly thereafter, breakfast is served.
“The first meal of the day is usually porridge or tea depending on the availability of resources,” Chirembwe added.
“To be honest, this place has a lot of people and to expect the meal to be as good as the one served at home would be to lie to yourself. The porridge usually has average to below average sugar, but you have to fill the stomach.”
After breakfast most inmates usually continue with their cleaning chores. Others engage in activities such as soccer, choir and drama, while waiting for lunch.
Lunch, which sometimes doubles up as dinner, is usually sadza served with green vegetables or sugar beans.
“We have beef on rare occasions. I remember the last time we had beef was during the days of Operation Restore Legacy,” he said with a smile.
Around 3pm, the prisoners are rounded back into the cells, and the gates are locked. At this time, some prisoners read or play chess.
As the sun begins to set, Chirembwe prepares to bunk down for the night. But the day does not end at 4pm as is commonly believed.
“Unlike what most people think, our day only ends at 8pm, when the prison officers change shifts,” he said. “That is when the lights are switched off and we retire to bed.
“Usually an inmate has three to four blankets but for the new inmates blankets are sometimes a problem. They are usually given blankets when an inmate is transferred or leaves the prison.” Life in prisons has evolved drastically over the years and inmates such as Chirembwe are grateful.
One thing that Chirembwe is thankful for is the introduction of peer educators in prisons.
“Telling the truth, homosexuality was rampant in prisons, Chikurubi included. There were times when there would be fights over lovers in the prison. However since the introduction of peer educators in prisons, homosexuality has since vanished. There is now education on the dangers of homosexuality.”
Although he still has hope he will leave the prison alive, he is not sure he will find his family intact.
“My wife last visited me in 2014, some of my relatives say she moved on,” he said. “However, I feel I let my children down. When, that is if, I leave this place, I know I will be a changed man. I will make the best of my remaining days.”
As he walks back to his prison cell, he stops occasionally for a few pleasantries with prison officers.
He walks back into his cell, preparing for a tomorrow that is just as empty as today.
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