PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last month granted close to 2 000 prison inmates countrywide amnesty under Clemency Order Number 1 of 2014, under Section 112(1)(a) of the constitution.
Under the order published in the Government Gazette, those who did not qualify were habitual criminals serving a term of extended imprisonment, any person under death sentence, any person servicing a sentence imposed by court martial, a person who escaped from lawful custody and is still at large and any person serving a jail term for a specified offence.
But, as they say, old habits die hard and already some of the pardoned prisoners are back for another stint in the slammer. This week the Zimbabwe Independent found that about 17 pardoned ex-convicts had already been re-arrested, with Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS) spokesperson Elizabeth Banda saying they had committed crimes including robbery, rape and assault.
More are expected to reprise their stretch in prison owing to the prevailing tough socio-economic conditions.
Over a month since her release, pardoned 31-year-old convicted armed robber, Laina Ncube, is finding it difficult to adjust to new economic realities that include the formal introduction of the United States dollar in 2009.
Laina served seven years of her 10-year sentence for armed robbery and was among the prisoners, mostly females and juveniles, pardoned.
All female prisoners at Chikurubi Female Prison were set free save for three — two of them sentenced to death and one to life imprisonment.
When Laina, from Hatfield, was arrested in 2007, she was 24 and she remembers well the unpopular Zimbabwean dollar and the extremely tough economic challenges she blames for driving her into committing crime.
The year 2007 was a difficult year not only for her, but many Zimbabweans when galloping hyperinflation reached unprecedented levels and government declared a price freeze on goods and services, resulting in a critical food, fuel and other commodity shortages.
The Independent recently caught up with Laina and two other ex-convicts. They narrated heartrending tales about their stay in prison and expressed deep regret about the crimes they committed as well as their hopes and fears for the future.
The three ex-convicts’ greatest fear is that society will continue to stigmatise and keep them at arms’ length, while their slim employment prospects, due to their criminal record and an ailing economy, give them sleepless nights.
Laina said: “Life was very difficult before my arrest. The Zimbabwean dollar wreaked havoc for me and my two children aged three and five then. I was enticed into crime and sentenced to 15 years for armed robbery.”
“I was supposed to serve 10 years, but five were suspended. I don’t understand what exactly led me into crime; it must have been the peer pressure that was accelerated by the need for fast money due to the economic hardships. I took part in robberies at Beitbridge and Plumtree border posts where we stole money from people.”
She said, however, the short time she has spent outside prison has been difficult as she has no money and were it not for her parents who spared her a little cash, she would have been stuck and possibly forced to commit another crime.
Laina, who now plaits braids for a living thanks to the training she received while in prison, said it was difficult to get clients as there were so many hairdressers, while some shunned her for the crime she committed seven years ago.
She said: “Some people know that I was arrested for armed robbery, others don’t. But when I get clients who don’t, they end up somehow knowing I was in jail. They then don’t feel comfortable with me coming to their houses to plait their hair.
“I hope friends and relatives forgive me and accept me back into society despite what I did, for I have already and continue to pay a heavy price for it. I just need something to start on, something to help me look after my two children,” she said.
In another case, then 18-year-old Paida Phiri of Manyame Park, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment for kidnapping a one-year old child, regrets accepting her friend’s request to watch over her child while she went clubbing.
“I was arrested in February 2012,” said Paida. “I was accused of kidnapping my friend’s child who was one-and-a-half years old. She had asked me to babysit while she went out to a night club. Because she didn’t come back that night I went with her baby to my workplace because I could not leave the child alone. I was, however, surprised when police came to my workplace and arrested me for kidnapping. I tried to explain myself, but I was convicted and sentenced to five years.”
Paida said she could not understand what had happened and even contemplated revenge.
“I was hurt and wondered why my friend had incriminated me when I had done her a favour. But through counselling, I managed to put everything behind me and forgave her,” she said.
“I hope to make a living raising chickens. My advice is that we need to be careful about our friends as some can land you into big trouble. I certainly learnt the hard way,” said Paida.
Thirty-two-year-old Farai Padzarondora from Marlborough, convicted of assault, was also released.
“I was arrested together with my brother who is a DJ (disc jockey) following a scuffle at a bar and we were told after a week or two that we had broken the legs of the person we fought with. To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened or who started the fight, but I was shocked when I was sentenced to three years in jail. I just thought I would pay a fine and go home.
“I have paid the price in prison. I had to humble myself and I appreciate the counselling and love I received from prison officers and peer educators. Especially to youths I would say avoid fights. Always try to walk away.”
Banda said: “The major reason ex-prisoners re-offend just after being released is stigmatisation. The ex-prisoner does not know what to expect. For most of them, family and friends do not visit while they are in prison, which means they fail to appreciate the progress the prisoner makes due to rehabilitation programmes.
“When they are released, the reaction of society is ‘the thief has been released’ without giving them another chance. The ex-prisoner then finds prison could be a better and more secure place due to the rehabilitation programmes.”
Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender chief executive officer Edison Chiota said if prisoners were still in denial it would be difficult for society to forgive them.
“Prisoners are usually in denial,” said Chiota. “They rarely accept reality; usually they find someone to blame for their problems. They have to first accept that what they did was wrong and come out in the open to say ‘I’m sorry’.”
“If they don’t do that, how can they be forgiven? We offer them counselling at the prisons, but once they are out some even refuse to come back to us for assistance.”