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Arrest one, imprison all in Zimbabwe

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One society that we often forget and rarely think of, mainly because, by its very nature it is isolated from our day-to-day association and interaction, is the prison. The conditions in prisons are therefore usually understated unless being narrated by a prisoner.

Recently I met a lady in her fifties carrying a basket of food and a lunch box. She hesitantly approached me and asked, “Son, do you know how I can get to the remand prison near Newlands?”

“Oh yes mama let me show you”, I answered.

She must have realized that I was a bit interested in talking further with her, because she waited a moment longer after I had shown her directions. This was a chance I could not let go. I asked why she was going to the prison at that time of the day carrying such luggage as food. Her face suddenly changed, she turned and spoke slowly with gasps of sighs in between her words. I could see tiny drips of tears making their way along the wrinkles around her eyes. To avoid direct eye contact, she looked down and started to narrate the story of her son who was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison. She said her son was at Matapi in Mbare, and when she got there with the food this morning she heard that he was taken to the Remand Prison. Where he will be taken to after Remand, she is not sure but what she is sure of is that he was sentenced to serve three months and that she was supposed to look for his food daily for that long. She was not sure if she could sustain the three months of moving about every morning, where would she get the money for transport let alone the food itself? It seems the son was the breadwinner of the family and the old lady had to pay for his sins; the whole family behind, so to speak.

The food supply in prisons is reprehensible; families are struggling to feed their imprisoned. A one-year sentence means the family suffers for a year as well. That led me to ask a policeman what happens to those whose relatives are far from the prisons or those who cannot afford to bring food. He chose to use the phrase “survival of the fittest” and didn’t divulge much detail. He was only at liberty to disclose that cigarettes are in demand in prisons. If one has a pack of cigarettes, then he is assured of food as he can trade it with food with those whose relatives can supply it daily.

Zimbabwean prisoners might never face a worse hell than the present. The punishment ripples out to innocent family members who have to supply for food on daily basis. If one member is arrested, practically every family member is in prison. What a horrible state.

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