IMAGINING incarceration in Zimbabwe prisons always invokes sad feelings from members of the public.
One would always think about the lice-infested blankets, sodomy, food shortage, sickness and death.
But for Privilege Ramos (37) from Mutasa District in Manicaland province, who is serving a 32-month jail-term for attempted murder, incarceration has come as a blessing in disguise.
After 17 months behind bars, Ramos has acquired a life skill of welding, something that he had never imagined in his life.
Upon completion of his jail term, he hopes to start a welding business of his own and move on with life.
His story is one of many shared by other inmates who are receiving training in various self-sustaining disciplines offered by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS).
Apart from equipping inmates with life skills, the ZPCS is currently doing construction work of different forms in schools and other institutions in Mutare at a charge to enable it to generate revenue so that it sustains itself.
ZPCS superintendent Elton Gumindega said: “The whole idea is to turn prisons into a viable business entity so that we don’t continuously milk from the fiscus and that in the long term we achieve self-sustenance.”
He added: “In the short term we want to cover running costs such as repair of our vehicles, fuel for the courts, stationery and daily administrative issues.”
Gumindega sad part of the money will be used to cater for transport for inmates upon release in the form of bus fares while the other will be used to buy small things such as toiletries, salt or cooking oil.
The organisation has carried out renovation and repair work at Mutare Boys High where the infrastructure was constructed as far back as 1950s. It renovated classroom blocks, ablution facilities and the canteen as well as repairing the plumbing system and fixing burglar bars.
Mutare Boys High School head, Mathew Tondoya said the ZPCS had done a splendid work at the school.
He said the school wasted a lot of money on some contractors “bent on making money without doing proper construction”.
“For other contractors the work they do will not last for even two terms and we will be wasting money in engaging them. This is quite durable and we are happy with the work they are doing,” he said.
ZPSC has also embarked on an ambitious project at their Prison Farm to construct a school which will cater for the children of the officers and the local community.
ZPSC chief superintendent Zondai Cleopas Nyatsanza said the Mutare Farm Prison Junior School will go a long way in helping both the local community and prison officers.
Nyatsanza, who is the Chief Staff Officer responsible for administration in Manicaland province, said it was cheaper for them as labour was readily available in the form of highly skilled prison officers and the inmates.
The inmates manufacture window frames and doorframes at the prison.
“We discovered that there are a number of children within Mutare Prison Farm who are going to schools in town because we have no school here. Equally the same, the surrounding community has no school and this one will be handy to everyone,” said Nyatsanza.
The school has already been registered and four teachers were employed to teach 50 pupils enrolled in ECD and grade 1.
Besides construction, the ZPCS is also involved in the rehabilitation of its female inmates and former inmates through partnership with a local organisation called Gogo Olive.
The initiative, started by Julie Hagan, is open to vulnerable women as well as prison inmates and former inmates.
Hagan said the initiative was meant to ensure that struggling women get something out of working on their own.
For the inmates, they will receive training during incarceration and afterwards they will join others to knit doles which are marketable in part countries in the world.
The doles are exported and on average, the women receive $180 a month from the sale of the doles.
Rosa Chakwawa (35) who benefited from the recent Presidential Pardon said the training and incorporation she got in the Gogo Olive initiative had opened a new lease of life to her.
“When I was released from prison, everyone welcomed me here and as you can see it’s now business as usual as we are knitting these doles,” said Chakwawa. “I am managing to pay for my rent, pay fees for my children as well as buy food. I urge all the prison inmates to take the training they get seriously as it will be a stepping stone afterwards.”