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This is a story of resilience and how one can survive and piece up the piece after serving time in prison. It is not easy but Juliet Mwelwa recounts her journey:

Question: Tell us a bit about your self .

Answer: My name is Juliet Mwelwa, I was born in Lusaka and I went to school in Lusaka at Chibolya but I did not complete school.

Question: SO it is Lusaka throughout for you, you have never been out of Lusaka?

Answer: I did stay in Kabwe for a while but then came back to Lusaka

Question: when you look back, what would you say excited you as a child?

Answer: Being young is nice, I would play football and other games.

Question: on Juliet in this program we want to find out about life after prison but we want to know how this happened. How was life generally?

Answer: I grew up in hard life because after my dad died, it was difficult for mom to take me and my siblings to school. So I found myself married.

Question: So what happened for you to find yourself behind bars in prison or correctional facility as it is now called?

Answer: It was just in my home. I  was not doing any business which could put me in trouble but just misunderstandings in my home. We would call people to counsel us as a couple but my friend was not changing. So I packed my things and moved out and it was these same items I packed which got me arrested.

Question: The same goods you were using in your house?

Answer: Yes, the same goods. This is what got me into problems. I waited for my husband to leave because I knew that if I told him that I was going to pack and go, he would not have agreed. That day, we did not have any issues. He even bide me farewell as he left for work. I started packing my things just then. I had already found a house and that is where I took the goods from matrimonial house. When he returned he found that I was not home. He phoned and I told him I had left. He asked why I left without us sitting down to talk but I told him I wanted to be alone for a while. Then he started threatening that he would sue me over the goods which I took. That’s how he went to police and by then I had left for business at some farm. I was just surprised when police called me one day. They asked to see when I got back. I went to the police the same day I got back.

Question: At this point, did you know why police wanted you?

Answer: I had no idea. If I had known, I would have been afraid but I was clueless. So I went and police sent me to the cells, saying they had been looking for me. They did not tell why they were putting me in the cells. They just said I should rest in the cells until the officer in charge came back. I asked them what I had done wrong but they could not say but advised that I wait for the officer.

When the officer came back from court, the removed me from the cells and asked me if I knew what offense I had committed to be taken to the police. I said no. They then told me that I had stolen goods from a house. That’s how this case started. The arresting officer was too fast. Family members came to talk to him and police told them that they would release me on police bond  the following Monday.

They told my family to come after lunch but I was taken to court in the morning.

Question: They did not wait for your family?

Answer: They didn’t and there was no complainant. I was just alone. I had not idea what to do in court. I had never been to court. I was totally lost.  The court read out the charge and asked me I understood and accepted the charge. I accepted. (laughs).  The court then said it is good that you have accepted the charge and did not waste our time so we will give you 15 months. So me I though the court said 15 days and I came out very happy (laughs). I thought I would be there for  15 days only.

So now at the prison reception they asked me if I knew how many months I had been given and I said no it was not months but days. They then told me I had been given 15 months and showed me the written record. (laughs) That’s when I started crying. I could not believe it.  I cried and cried because I had also left some goods for business at the farm.

Question : so you were crying about  everything?

Answer: Yes. It was like a funeral. It was hard. I was in shock. Imagine in court they didn’t even ask me any questions. I did not know that’s how they do things. I was ignorant. Even the complainant was surprised because the day he was told to be at police for my police bond, it was the day I was sent to court. They were told to just look for me inside the prison.

Question: How did you finally accept that you were incarcerated?

Answer: At first it was difficult because when you arrive there and you are crying, you find people who have 10 years. They warned me that they would give a bucket to fill with my tears. Eventually I developed friendship with some people who ere encouraging. They told me that the period would pass in no time and you would be out.

Question: Did you serve the who 15 months or you came out earlier?

Answer: When you are sentence, the exclude weekends and holidays so I was told I would serve 10 months. So I came out after 10 months. There was no pardon for me.

Question: How was your experience in prison?

Answer:  There is a lot of encouragement in prison. You enter as an individual but you become part of the family and that is what is expected and encouraged. You eat together.

Question: Now that you are out, how did you feel when you got closer to being released?

Answer:  I was mostly preoccupied with where I would go. Some of the people who visited me had small houses and I would not stay with them. People with big homes never visited me. I had a count down on the last night, I could not sleep. I just wanted to be out.

Question: How was it to start afresh when you came out?

Answer: It was difficult. I did not even have anyone to pick me.  When I came out, I could not even find the bus station. So I went to my brother’s house because he was keeping two of my children?

Question: knowing that you had children and could not be kept forever,  what did you do to make a new start in life?

Answer: Life was hard. Before I came, another friend had already come out and was waiting for me so that we find something to do together. My friend started work. Then we looked for Mr Chirwa and were welcomed in the cooperative. My friend found me a job and I started working in Inter City.

Question: how long did it take for you to pick up and get to some normality?

Answer: It took me 8 months. It took long.

Question: How was the reception from family and friends?

Answer:  Some family members can talk to you but the respect they had previously is no longer there. Some friends are lost but some are still there.

Question: How would you describe your life now? After spending 10 months in prison.

Answer: I am now pulling and ZAMEP is really encouraging me and others. Our group now has a poultry project and we are selling eggs. We are doing well.

Question: Some people when they leave prison, they become bitter because no one was visiting them. What is your advice to them?

Answer:  They should not be too negative and lower themselves. They should just be strong and our cooperative welcomes new people from prison.

Question: what areas are you strong in? which helps you now?

Answer: I was a farmer and selling. We used to grow and sell vegetables. I manage.

Question: how are things with you and your husband? Have you forgiven him

Answer: I have forgiven him but we can not reunited.

Question: did he never visit you in prison?

Answer: Yes and we even had a counselling session in prison and officers asked me to ask for forgiveness. We discussed.

Question: How can you describe your life after prison now?

Answer: But even if I have not achieved much, it is definitely better that what I had in the past. Where I am headed is definitely better

Question: Why do you so that? There are opportunities.

Answer:  Yes there are opportunities and I can clearly see that things will be better.

Question: what motivates to push on and aim to reach your goals?

Answer: There are many things and especially our cooperative it encourages. In future, things will be better.


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