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Service and humility

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Eat Out Zimbabwe has posted an inspiring write up by Theresa Wilson, who has been helping prisoners at Harare Central for the past year and a half. Wilson shares some of the challenging and humbling observations of her work:

St George’s College has now been involved in helping at Harare Central Prison for almost eighteen months. The school has formed a prison committee, made up of six members of staff. On a weekly basis Father Freyer, the resident priest at the school and Mrs Theresa Wilson, a teacher at the school, visit the prison with all important goods for the plus or minus 1300 inmates imprisoned there.

There is no section which we have not visited now and the conditions, although not as desperate as early last year, are still concerning. The prisoners are tightly packed into the cells and they are still all sleeping on the hard concrete floor. The prison was initially built to house about 700 prisoners, full capacity. On our last visit there, there were 1400 prisoners and I measured a cell by pacing – about three and a half metres by three and a half metres, in which seven prisoners were to sleep, they could hardly even fit sitting up. The corridors, with cell blocks on either side, have even been made into makeshift cells, with very little air streaming through. A ‘single’ cell, of about a metre and a half wide, housed three men.

Oddly enough, those with the so called biggest individual space are those in death row who have a cell to themselves, however, this is no consolation for them as one cannot even open ones arms out to full extent when measuring the width of the cell. The condemned prisoners stay in this tiny tomb for 23 hours a day, with one hour to shower, exercise and receive their food. The only reading material they are allowed are bibles, of which Father Freyer has sourced for the 54 prisoners there. There has not been a hanging, the method of execution in Zimbabwe, for three years now, but on each door is the prisoner’s name, his weight and height, measured to be strung up when the time comes. Many of them have lived like this for over ten years. It is a privilege to even be allowed within this area, and we go into the heavily secured “B Hall”, the doors are individually and laboriously unlocked and we have a few seconds interaction with these men. They are often the most grateful for our attention, as the non-judgmental shake of a hand and enquiry as to their well-being is usually more appreciated than the goods we bring them.

The International Red Cross continues to provide soap, oil and beans for the prisoners and Prison Services provides mealie meal, their staple diet. We have been supplementing this with fruit, whatever is in season, usually apples, oranges or bananas. Boiled eggs are a popular alternative, given in the holidays when the College kitchen can boil the 1300 required to give to all of them. Toilet paper is also a necessity and we try to bring them at least a roll a month, hardly sufficient, but provides a scrap, literally, sometimes, of dignity. The St George’s students have collected old ice-cream containers and old 2 litre juice containers for the prisoners. These serve as their plates and cups for the sadza and water, which they take into their cells to consume. We are presently encouraging a ‘shoe drive’ at the school, whereby students bring old trackshoes or slops for the prisoners to wear.

When we provide the food for the prison, we make sure that we take it to each and every inmate, a process that usually takes about two and a half hours. This is to ensure that all the prisoners get their fair share and goods are not stolen in the process.

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2 comments to “Service and humility”

  1. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » The plight of prisoners in Zimbabwe:

    [...] community activist Theresa Wilson’s account of assisting Zimbabwean prisoners here If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. ~ Bob [...]

  2. Comment by Emeldah Tshuma:

    I am very impressed aboutwhat you guys do and I know our God is a Good God and he watches over whatever you do. I am a co-finder of a Ministry in my church called “League of Mercy”. I assist the widows, singles and unfortunate members of my communicty and memners of the my church.

    I would love to accompany you one day whe you do your prisons visits. I will see what I can donate towards this cause and will get in touch with you. Can I please have your contact numbers.

    Stay Blessed and may the Lord God bless you abundantly as you partake to assist the prisoners.


    Emeldah Tshuma