LIFE AFTER PRISON: Marvis Mwiya’s story



What is life like in prison and how does one get intergraded into society after prison, these and more questions face many women and men facing life after prison. In this candid interview, Ireen Watema talks to Marvis Mwiya:

Ireen: This show is about what happens after one has been to prison. It  also touches on the reasons behind why someone, in this case, Marvis, was sent to prison. So Marvis just to tell us a bit about yourself.

Answer: I am Marvis Mwiya and I was born in Livingstone. My education only went up to primary. I married young and had five children. Unfortunately my husband died.

Question: what are some the activities that you like when you were young? How was life

Answer: I was fat and only knew how to sign. I liked playing netball.

Question: and at school what did you like?

Answer: I liked tailoring, sewing and cooking.

Question: SO now when you look back, is there anything that you miss when you look back?

Answer: I can miss being carried as a child and there being no problems.

Question: Now we want to know what led to you going to prison.

Answer: After my husband died life became hard. Taking children to school became difficult, so my friends suggested we start some business of ordering and selling beans from Mpika in Zambia’s Muchinga Province. This was far and so we asked some boys to order some beans for  us and they took it to a nearby village. So that day, two days after they left, we followed them and it took us three days to reach. When we reached, they game us water to bath and food. But later at night, we just saw light from torches and the owner of the house coming. My friends ran away but I remained eating with some of the boys. The  people asked us if we were strangers and I said yes. Just there and then, they started shouting that these are your things. I asked them what things. They called police and started beating me because I was resisting for sure. When we reached where they took us, they claimed the cannabis there belonged to us. I denied this allegation. I insisted that I was a beans trader. The officer claimed I was the owner of the house but I refused. I was speaking Nyanja in Bemba land so they could not understand what I was saying. And for sure the cannabis was a lot. There were so many bags and the owner of the house ran away with their children. I was busy eating when this happened. So they captured us and were taken to Mpika police cells for 3 days. An officer named  Moonga told me the cannabis belonged to me but I refused. They told me that they would not release us because I was troublesome but I did not want to admit to something that I did not do.

We had difficulties with that officer and he got upset. The day for going to court, they read the charge but I denied the charge. When I saw the heap of cannabis, I got sick and ended up in hospital. The officer told us that if we did not accept the charge, we would never leave prison. And even some of the people we found there told us that such cases, we should just accept otherwise we would never leave prison.

So  the fourth time, I accepted that the cannabis was mine and excused the young man who was with me. All this time, I kept thinking about my children, wondering whether they had eaten and how they were living. I was just crying. My eyes were red and I could not eat. The other inmates were encouraging me to eat but it was difficult.

My life was hard until I met one officer who told me that crying would not help and that I should just accept and pray. I started praying and fasting. Then I was transferred to Kabwe and other inmates were warning that I would die in Kabwe.  I was told that Kabwe Maximum Prison had the hard core female prisoners but I agreed to go there because it was near my home.

In Kabwe I found people with different characters. When you are in prison you even envy a lizard when it is passing that at least it is going to sun bath while you are cooped up.

Question : When did all this happen?

Answer: It  was 2014. So they game me 10 years  which means I could serve 6 years 8months. I was in Mpika prison for four months before they moved me. But God answers prayers. I don’t even know how I was released but there were complaints that the system should look at the prisoners who were not condemned to life or death. So one day, the chaplain came to address us and that is how I found out that I was being released. I used to go on 20 days fasting and my friends were laughing at me. But God answers prayers.

The officers reassured everyone and called out 3 names. I was not expecting to be called out and when I went there, I knelt and prayed. You can be pardoned when you least expect it.

Question: the time you spent in prison, do you know if the owners of the drugs ever owned up?

Answer: They had ran away and not be found. They only went back when they heard that I had been convicted.

Question: so what happened when you were released after 6 years in prison.

Answer: I had no idea where I could go and who would receive me. So after I heard my name, I was wondering where I would go where I would be welcomed. It was difficult.

Question: so when you finally got home and found your children, how did they receive you? How did you restart your life?

Answer: when we were released, we went to sleep at the SDA church and they gave us small blankets and we were thankful. They gave us transport money but I had no where to stay. I went to my in-laws place but the welcome was not warm. I later looked for my relatives but the welcome was not good and it was not easy. My cloths had been sold. I was sleeping in the sitting room and early in the morning, I would be woken up so that they sweep the room.

Question: so when you saw this kind of life what did you do? How did you pick yourself up?

Answer:  life was tough and if you ask people for help, nothing would happen so I started washing clothes for people. I started making kachasu and that’s how I got money to buy tomatoes to start business.

Question: what about friends, how did they relate to you after you were released?

Answer: some friends were coming to visit but were stigimatising me as a former prisoner. I just accepted.

Question: was it easy to be accepted to work any where?

Answer:  Some people not even allow me to enter their houses to wash for them. They were saying this woman will steal or kill you. Once you have been convicted and been to prison, people think you are thief or killer.  So we are labelled negatively and it is not nice.

Question: How would you describe life now and with ZAMEP assisting?

Answer: My friend is the one who introduced and I did not believe and now I have been in this group for two years. I have found friends and when we see one of us not doing well, we correct them.

Question: There are people who have left prison and may feel helpless that the world has turned against them. What is you message or advice to them?

Answer: what helped me to pick was prayer. When a person leaves prison, it’s tough and some can even miss being in prison because there is food there. If you have no relatives to receive you, trust you, it is difficult. But now we have ZAMEP to welcome all those leaving prison. We also people and we need love, especially from our relatives. Being in prison does not turn one into a criminal, we just need to be loved. A person is a person and we change. We change and learn love and forgiveness.

Question: Is life better now or worse than before you went to prison?

Answer:  (laughs) Life is better. People who were rejecting have accepted me. Of course I had more possessions before I went to prison. I had a double bed and now I don’t. But I know that I under ZAMEP, I will find all these things.

Question: what can you say to the people watching this program? On stigma?

Answer:  Love will change someone. Do not reject former prisoners.

Question: so did you resume your business of selling beans?

Answer: No. I stopped

Question: So what business are you doing now?

Answer: I am selling tomatoes at a stall and business is slow but it is fine.

This is supported by WAN-INFRA WOMEN IN NEWS  SIRI PROJECT. However, views expressed in this program do not represent views of WAN-INFRA WOMEN IN NEWS .


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