Yeukai Karengezheka Features
Correspondent“If I could turn back the hands of time, I could not have done it,” said a tearful Joramu Siwela as he narrated the incident that led to his incarceration. As a 19-year-old juvenile during his high school days, Siwela was involved in a fight for a girl with one of his schoolmates at Chaplin High School in Gweru. The girl in question was said to have double-crossed them.
He was so incensed that he knifed his rival suitor to death. Siwela was later arrested and charged with murder. He committed the crime in 1996 at the age of 19. After a lengthy trial, a High Court judge slapped him with life imprisonment.
Love, it is said, knows no boundaries and true to the adage, Siwela took the life of a school mate, a fourth former in front of other pupils at the school. He was held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in 1997. Now at the age of 40, Siwela has spent his adult life holed up in a prison cell and regrets the events of that fateful day.
What pains him most is that he has never had the opportunity to see the woman he was “ready to kill for” ever since he was jailed. “I regret what I did that day because it troubles me day and night. This guy was a friend of mine, so his death was not a loss only to his family but to me as well. Emotions overcame me though I had no intention of hurting him in that manner,” recalled Siwela in an interview with The Herald at Chikurubi Prison recently.
“What pains me more is that I never heard or saw that girl I loved so much and fought for after that incident, yet she is the reason I am serving a life sentence. Such is life but I learnt a lesson.” Although Siwela has spent two decades in prison so far, he is not heartbroken, but believes that one day he will be out of the prison.
The high-spirited inmate has earned respect among his colleagues that came about as a result of hard work, good conduct and loyalty to prison authorities. He is one of the best soccer players for the Chikurubi prisoners football team.
“I realised that life still goes on even when you are in prison and I should be able to enjoy and exhibit the talents God gave me when I am still alive. I enjoy playing soccer with other inmates and teams from other prisons in the country,” he said.
Siwela has become a mentor and major source of inspiration for other inmates. “Personally, I am not hopeless because I am serving a life sentence. I usually give advice and encourage new inmates to quickly adapt to prison life,” he said.
“I have put my life in God’s hands. God willing, I will be released one day. I have reformed and I am a born-again Christian. For the past 20 years I have been in prison, I have never been involved in a single fight with any inmate. This place has moulded my character and focus in life.” Unlike other inmates, he has built a strong relationship with correctional officers. This has seen him being given responsibilities.
“My prison status was upgraded from D (most dangerous criminals) to C (relatively less dangerous),” he said. “It’s an honour to be given duties and responsibilities in prison. I can move freely and supervise other inmates.” His parents have not forgotten about him either. They visit him once in a while.
Siwela has also excelled in his education. “I continued with my O-Level here in prison and passed,” he said. “I then proceeded to do my A-Levels in commercial subjects. I passed and I’m happy with my achievements.”
Chief Correctional Officer (CCO) Solomon Mutamba confirmed that Siwela was one of the most disciplined prisoners they have had in years. “Joramu came here when he was very young,” he said. “He was placed on death row but was later given a life sentence. He is a well behaved prisoner who has transformed positively over the years.
“He advanced with his studies inside the prison and he is one of best soccer players we are proud to have. He passed his O and A-Levels.”
The 40-year-old inmate has a dream to start a family one day, if he gets the chance to be free.
“After I am released from this place, I have a dream of starting a family of my own,” he said with a beaming smile. “If I’m released, I hope to marry the woman of my dreams. Even if I’m here in jail, I must not lose hope. I have dreams, too.”
Rehabilitation of prisoners is a complex process. Over the years the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services has been revamping its rehabilitation programmes to help integrate prisoners into society upon their release.
They have since introduced a programme called “Family Week” that allows inmates at various prisons to spend time with their loved ones, including children.
The main objective of the “Family Week”, which is running under the theme “Building a professional and correctional system in Africa: A strategic objective”, is to help rehabilitate inmates through increased interaction with the society.
Prisoners in Zimbabwe are graded into four classes -A-D. Those in Class D are the ones serving long-term sentences ranging from seven years and above, including murderers.
Class C is for those that are serving 30 months up to slightly less than seven years and those serving life sentences and have good conduct are often allowed to interact with inmates in this group.
Class A and B consists of those serving sentences of less than 30 months. Those inmates that exhibit good behaviour after six months of their sentence are transferred to A Class.
In Zimbabwe, those serving life sentences cannot be released on parole easily.
And for Siwela, he can only pray for a miracle to be released.