By SYLVIA MWEETWA –
FOR others ending the year 2013 was just like having another Christmas celebration but the story was different for some female prisoners at Kabwe’s Maximum Female Prison.
The day was an extraordinary one following the move by President Michael Sata to set some prisoners free and reduce sentences for others.
December 25, is the day when Commissioner of Prison Percy Chato and his entourage walked through the small gate of the maximum prison to deliver the good message to the prisoners.
It was like the tale of Mary in the Bible who received a good will message from the angel Gabriel informing her that she would bear a child.
The women upon seeing Mr Chato burst into a frenzy of joyous singing of praise songs to God and danced to the extent of causing some members of the entourage to breakdown.
The sweet melody coming from the singers was irresistible as some female convicts with their children tagging sung their lungs out but little did they realise what message the commissioner had in store for them.
Suddenly, the singing was brought to a halt so as to allow Mr Chato deliver his Christmas message.
After he had done so the mood even became more explosive.
The singing and all the jovial jostling was turned into tears of joy as one female prisoner from the group was freed to go home after Mr Chato announced President Michael Sata’s pardon on some of the prisoners.
The one who was freed was Farah Mwansa aged 41, who was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for murder but had only served 10 years.
The news was broken to her and she could not help but shed tears of joy and thanked President Sata for pardoning her and other prisoners and pledged to be a good citizen.
Immediately her name was called out, Mwansa fell down on her knees and later rolled to the ground in amazement at the news.
The ex-convict said she did not
think she could be released anytime soon and encouraged fellow female convicts not to lose hope and continue to look up to God for strength.
She said though she was not ready to speak about the offence of murder she had committed, she regretted her action which resulted in the loss of life.
“I don’t know what to say but Iam humbled and shocked at the same time over my release because when I wrote a petition to the President I did not know that this moment will come, I am grateful to God and President Sata for his kind gesture,” she said.
Mwansa who also dedicated herself in singing in the combined female and men prison’s choir said she was walking out of the prison gates taking with her the love and care exhibited by prison warders and the skills she had acquired such as HIV/AIDS counselling as well as tailoring.
“It was not an easy journey here but I learnt to surrender to God day in and out and as time went on I joined the choir and enjoyed it day by day as opposed to agonising,” she said.
And Sharon Mwansa who was sentenced to prison for a drug trafficking offence for which she was condemned to serve a life imprisonment had her sentence reduced to 30 years.
Mwansa wept uncontrollably and had to be comforted by fellow prisoners.
Sharon did not have the strength to speak all she could do was to continue weeping as she was overwhelmed by joy.
The two women were celebrated and embraced by fellow prisoners as the party continued to sing songs of praise to God and President Sata and urged him to continue with his good gesture.
Mr Chato said President Sata’s move to set the prisoners free and reduce sentences was in line with the powers vested in him under Article 59 of the Constitution of Zambia following the prisoners petition in accordance with rule 140 of Cap 97 of the laws of Zambia.
He advised more female inmates to make use of their right to petition considering that only four of them had petitioned the President and that there was need for more women prisoners to make use of the facility.
He pledged that his command would ensure that the female prisoners were engaged with a view of ensuring that more women petition the president in accordance with rule 140 of Cap 97 of the laws of Zambia.
But this leaves one to wonder that the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has often times visited the prisons and held chats with inmates and held discussions with prisoners yet most of the female prisoners were not even aware of their right to petition the President.
From this recent visit and the latest event it was clear that only few female inmates were aware of this facility most of them were ignorant about it.
It is high time that the HRC sensitised the female convicts on the importance of petitioning the president so that they utilise the facility to the advantage.
During the last petition only four female inmates had petitioned while the population stood at 103.
Earlier, at the male convicts section, Mr Chato announced President Sata’ move to reduce sentences for 10 inmates who were on death row to life imprisonment as part of this year’s Christmas celebrations.
President Sata further reduced the life imprisonment sentence slapped on 87 inmates facing various offences ranging from murder and aggravated robbery to 30 years imprisonment with hard labour with a call on prisoners in Zambia to maintain high levels of discipline.
The mood of the prisoners changed into jubilation immediately after seeing Mr Chato walking through the prisons ground as if they realised that he was a bearer of good news.
“I stand here as a carrier of a message that his Excellency in exercise of powers vested in him has duly signed orders to commute 10 death sentences to life, 87 life sentences to 30 years and release two long term prisoners with immediate effect,” Mr Chato said.
He appealed to prisoners to remain disciplined and that not all hope was lost and that the Government had committed itself to ensuring that the welfare of prisoners are addressed.
He said the prisoners were entitled to petition the President after serving one year after exhausting the appeal process and every after two years but emphasised on the importance of maintaining good behaviour.
He said normally prisoners are only released or have their sentences reduced during independence, African Freedom day and other celebrations but this year’s gesture was unique and urged the prisoners not to despair.
And as names of beneficiaries were called out there was jubilation while others openly wepted while praising God and thanking President Michael Sata’s gesture.
Some prisoners joined in celebrations lifting their colleagues shoulder high as they sang songs of praise while others knelt and offered prayers.
And Godfrey Siame who was serving life imprisonment on aggravated robbery and murder and has since served 16 years.
Initially, Siame was sentenced to death but his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment by late President Levy Mwanawasa.
And Akumpe Kafunda who was serving life imprisonment had his reduced to 30 years paid tribute to the Government for coming to the prisoners aid.
The two who walked to freedom appealed to the prisoners not to lose hope and remain prayerful and of good behaviour which was key to having their prayers answered.
The two further appealed to society not to stigmatise them and that they regret their actions, adding that staying in prison has taught them a lesson that committing crime does not pay.
Recently, President Sata pardoned and set free 615 prisoners countrywide as part of the African Freedom Day commemorations.
The President also commuted sentences of 113 inmates on death row to life imprisonment.
The move by President Sata to set free and reduce sentences for prisoners is commendable as it would also assist decongest the already congested condemned section.
Indeed as the world says bye to 2013 and says hello to 2014, female and male convicts will have to remember the 2013 Christmas as it brought hope that with God all things are possible.