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LIFE  in prison is not for the fainthearted. It changes and challenges people who serve time in prison. This is the story of Mr. John Bwalya.

Question: How are you Mr John

Answer: thank you very much

Question: In this program we give an opportunity to our guest to tell us about themselves  and also to tell us how you found yourself inside.

Answer: My name is John Bwalya and I am the last born in the family. To explain  about the reason why I am here. It happened in 1988 and that is a long time ago and on 15 th April 1998, I was a contractor and I had bought a plot. And because of what to find material  to facilitate my building, I asked my friends who I thought were doing straight business. Not knowing that they were doing criminal activities. In the end, I found that the things which I wanted from them were just stolen.  The cement I wanted was stolen. Where they got the cement, I found that the cement was stolen. I only realized that when I saw the police asking me to give them what I had bought from the boys. The cement was stolen. Because I was found with the cement, they made me into an eye witness. By the time we were going to the magistrate, I just heard from the magistrate saying “ if there are 2 or 3 like in the community, the community would not be safe. So even you are an eye witness, you are one of them promoting criminality in this country “. Just those words and I was put together with the other friends and given a committal to the high court.

Question: where given legal representation?

Answer: At the high court we were given. And the way you have asked, if we had a lawyer. We were given legal aid and we did not know how they operate.  I was taken from home in unclear manner and it was difficult to protect myself. The legal aid helped a bit but the problem was that they would give a different legal aid all time and I kept explaining to different people. So it was confusing even for them to follow because they kept changing the  legal aid accorded to me.   In the end I was sent to jail. I can’t even remember the number of legal aid I went through.  I was just told that the legal aid is there to help poor people who can not afford to hire a lawyer.  But unfortunately it was like each session I had a different legal aid, sometimes, they would not come or come late. SO the situation was difficult.

Question: how many years were you given?

Answer: mmm madam, like I explained this case startedin 1988 upto 2000, and on 24th October in 2000 and with Judge Wanki, I was sentenced to death.

Question: was it life sentence?

Answer: No. it was death sentence. Sentenced to death. Because someone where the cement was stolen had died. Since they lamped us together in  the high court, and there was no indication that I was just an eye witness. So we were found guilty and sentenced. SO I was on death row.

Question: where you pardoned by the President for to be freed

Answer:   From 2000 to 2019 11 January you can count how long I was on death row. So I was in Mukobeko for 19 years.

Question: so how were you released?

Answer: My sentence was changed from death to life imprisonment .

Question: Let us now talk about your experience in prison because experiences differ.  

Answer:  there are many cases, capital and minor. Where I was, there are no minor cases. They just end at Chimbokaila. Death row is for capital offense. Death row you wont find that people were fighting and injured each other. No. there they send  those with murder. If you kill someone or if you are found with aggravated robbery or scaring someone with a gun. While police are still investigating, they can put you there. The other issue of experience, I can say they are different. If you are on remand with  capital offense or death row, the things you will go through will be different from the person who was just fighting with the wife or got someone’s clothes from a line.  So you are sent to different places according to your offense. But when it is death row, it is difficult even to explain. Death row, is heavy . It is tough my sister.   It is not something you can smile at. To leave death row, it is only God working through people  because God can not come down from heaven for you to see that God is doing this for me.  God works through people for you to see action in your life. Death row is something else, it is not something to play with. Even those listening to me should know. Only God strengthens one. Because you don’t know what can come to you. The president can sign that you die and it can be done  and you can be killed.

Question: how have you adapted after prison, where you welcomed and how has society received you?

Answer:  after  leaving  death row, they gave me life imprisonment . Life imprisonment  gave me opportunity than being on death row.  Life imprisonment means that your life will end in prison but  it also gives hope that maybe I will die here or be freed. No one know that death is coming so changing to life imprisonment gives one breathing space. I saw light when I was given life imprisonment that  I would not be hanged like I used to imagine. I took that opportunity to start learning mechanics. Government does not neglect prisoners. They give opportunity to change. It is up to you to be a hard core criminal or a preacher of God’s word.  So there is education in prison from grade one to college and there are also skills training, mechanics, tailoring and farming among others. These are skills that can help one when outside prison.

 So I decided to learn mechanics and when I came out, there were challenges. Depending on how you committed that offense , if it is within the family or outside. Family is supposed to welcome you but if you killed your aunt or father, how would they welcome you? I want to thank the churches, Catholics, SDA and Pentecost. Just from death row, these church people are always there to calm us down. I thank thank.

Question: you can give us closing remarks and encouragement.

Answer. There was a time I was in reception and a prisoner died and what I learnt was that this person was not in good terms with the family.  The prison warders   started phoning family members to inform them that he had died and that family was being awaited to discuss burial. But the response from the family was shocking.   They told the warders to bury him.  Where is our country going to? Family should maintain relations no matter what.  Lets thank the religious organisations regardless of denomination. The support given inside and outside is outstanding. But please families should welcome ex prisoners. People change.  No one goes to prison and fails to change.  The President can release 500 prisoners even if 20 re offend but 480, is this not a plus for Zambia.

This program is supported by WAN-IFRA WOMEN IN NEWS, however, the  views expressed here do not reflect the views of WAN-IFRA WOMEN IN NEWS.


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