Thirty year old Kudzai Nyoka says she still can’t believe she is now reunited with her two children she left two years ago when she was sentenced to seven years in prison after being locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Prison for fraud.
Nyoka is one of the 2,000 prisoners who were pardoned recently by President Robert Mugabe. Only two women on death row remain in prison following the presidential pardon.
Nyoka told VOA Studio 7 she is now a transformed person as she turned into a poet while in prison and managed to win a national award. She never imagined that she will ever leave prison.
"I am still in surprised right now. I can't believe it that on the 25th of May on Africa Day we woke up to the good news that we had been pardoned and would be going home. At first we all thought it was a joke especially me because I had five more years to serve and was on that day looking forward to a visit from my family since it was a holiday only to find out that we would be going home. I am so excited and thank the president for having mercy on all women and other prisoners who were pardoned.”
Before her incarceration, Nyoka said she was in human resources and took time to come to terms with her sentence but through counselling in prison she learnt that she could write about her feelings and express herself as a way of coping with the situation she found herself in. From her writing, she discovered a new talent -poetry - and then took part in a national competition while she was still in jail. She won.
"I now want to utilise my newly-discovered talent to make a living and help my family so that I can survive outside prison," said Nyoka.
Asked how the conditions were in prison Nyoka said there were bearable and reports that female prisoners sometimes go for days without food were not true in her case.
"In the two years I was there we had three meals a day and as a female we also received sanitary wear and other necessities," said Nyoka.
Some prisoners have reported that there is serious malnutrition and lack of medical facilities in Zimbabwe’s jails.
According to official reports, there are 580 female inmates in 46 prisons and all those who were eligible for parole were released except the two on death row.
Other prisoners that benefited from the amnesty included all male juveniles under the age of 18 and all female inmates. Prisoners convicted of murder, armed robbery, treason, rape or carjacking were not eligible for early release.
Speaking to the state-controlled Herald newspaper, Priscilla Mthembo, an official with Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service, said the 46 prisons nationwide were over populated.
She added that the country’s prisons have a holding capacity of 17,000, but had been holding over 19,900 prisoners so the pardon would go a long way in helping to provide better conditions for the inmates that remain incarcerated.
Asked on her re-integration into the society and the stigma associated with being in jail, Nyoka said she was lucky that her newly discovered talent put her in the spotlight and helped her community to embrace her upon her release.
“It’s now left to me to find the best way to move on with my life and utilize my God-given talent of poetry. While in jail I was also taking some cutting and designing classes and I will be writing the exams soon and hope to also utilize that course for my livelihood,” said Nyoka.