For some of the 383 inmates at Mutare Prison Farm, jail-time is paying off as they now possess new life skills that authorities hope will be a launching pad for them to get back into society upon release.
Inmates are now into construction, farming, welding, motor mechanics and carpentry as they earn skills that may help keep them away from crime in the future.
As one approaches the massive prison farm, measuring an estimated 650 hactares, what quickly catches one's eye is the high security barriers and razor wire fennce, which could be 4 metres high.
Inside the security wall is a two-storey building which 383 inmates call home for now. Others at the Mutare Prison Farm now call it a training college as they are learning new life skills which they did not have when they got in.
Male inmates are the only ones found at Mutare Prison Farm. Women serve their jail terms at the Mutare Remand Prison owing to their limited number, says Liberty Mhlanga, the public relations officer of the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (PCS).
Mhlanga says the ZPCS is empowering inmates as a way of ensuring offenders leave the institution “better” people who can fit and contribute to society.
He says the institution is offering numerous skills to inmates varying from taiIoring, construction/building, plumbing, mechanics, welding, farming, piggery, carpentry among other skills which would help former offenders upon their release from prison.
Mhlanga says the ZPCS can offer its expertise in the various services, which they teach inmates, to members of the public and companies for a nominal fee as a way of fundraising.
Innocent Gwerume, who was found guilty of a charge of unlawful entry, is one beneficiary of the life skills on offer at the Mutare Prison Farm.
Gwerume is hopeful that on his release next year he can put to good use the tailoring skills he gained while in custody.
“I have learnt so many things here. When I arrived here I did not know anything about tailoring, but now I have learnt so many things,” says Gwerume.
Another inmate, Steven Chandisaita, is gaining new skills in welding. He says he is happy to be learning new skills in prison.
He is grateful that he will leave the “college” a better person and be in a position to contribute towards development in his community using knowledge he acquired while behind bars.
“Since I came here a few years ago I have gained knowledge on how to weld and do some measureements. Welding is not just about welding metal, there is some expertise required which I have gained over the months through training from the prison officers here.”
One of the mentors of the inmates at a construction site, Benard Simango, says the inmates are doing a good job in some of the construction contracts they get from the general public.
He says in Rusape town there are contracts which are currently underway.
Simango says his construction department is engaged in a number of service provisions which has made the inmates well oiled to go and work upon release.
Upon release, most of the inmates would be proud holders of professional certificates from reputable tertiary colleges after going for trade tests with the Ministry of Manpower Development.
Mhlanga says the aim of jail term is not to punish or fix offenders but to correct and rehabilitate inmates to be better citizens who shun crime and engage in constructive work in their communities.
He adds communities should accommodate former inmates and give them another chance in their lives as there is always room for reform.