By Fadzayi Mahere
It is said that nobody truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.
A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
I pondered this age-old idea after roll-call as I watched fellow inmates lap up their paltry serving of watery porridge with their fingers.
Some did not have plates so requested that a double portion be served into one plate for them to share.
Two inmates would therefore dip their fingers into the single plate over breakfast.
The conversation would be a negotiation of who would go and fetch the water we would use to bath, clean our cells, drink and flush the “toilets.”
Most inmates did not have buckets so we shared.
The water was collected from a small bowser which was located in the enclosure where inmates who had tested positive were housed.
The lady who I had slept next to was coughing badly.
I asked her whether she was okay. “Should you not be in the quarantine section?” I asked.
“This IS the quarantine section,” she replied.
We laughed and put it down to days of sleeping on a cold concrete floor.
She asked the prison nurse for Paracetamol which had unfortunately run out.
At sleep time, the pungent smell of dirty blankets met the smell of our dirty prison garb to create a glorious odour.
Nobody wore their mask inside our cell. Who wears their mask to sleep?
Our blankets overlapped as the size of the cell did not allow for us to be socially-distanced.
We closed our windows to prevent mosquitos from coming in.
Many had worn the same “disposable”, blue mask for weeks – to a point where the masks were more brown than blue.
Not a day goes by where I do not think about the ladies I left behind those tall prison walls.
Joana and Cecilia who have been unjustly detained in those unpalatable conditions are constantly in my thoughts.
I yearn for Alan, Last and Tunga to one day see freedom.
The state of our prisons are a window into the conscience of our society.
Particularly during a pandemic, inmates who on a good day experience the worst threat to their dignity and humanity are particularly vulnerable.
The dark shadow of the circumstances that have brought them to jail should not prevent the light of humanity to shine and offer them the basics of running water, clean masks, sanitizer, functioning toilets, simple beds and decent nutrition.
Save for a few nagging bits, I now feel a lot better – having tested Covid19 positive the day after I left jail. I am truly grateful to all the wonderful souls that kept me going as I endured the nasty symptoms – a deep cough, profuse night sweats, migraines and a general out of body sensation.
Thank you to the doctors who calmed my fears. Getting Covid does make you panic and feel guilty about who you may have endangered.
I kicked myself for having hugged my mother after one of the court hearings.
Thankfully, she did not contract the disease.
Thank you to all my family, friends and angels who delivered food and nourishment to my doorstep.
Thank you to those who delivered medication and great advice.
Thank you to those who baked treats for me and those who did my grocery shopping.
Thank you to those who sent me flowers, cards and gifts.
Thank you to those who called and checked up on me. Thank you to those who sent me kind messages.
Just as when I was in prison, this moment has made me take a step back to count my many blessings.
I am so grateful and fortunate to have the gift of good health, amazing family and a phenomenal network of good human beings.
The worst is over and I survived.
This is the great thing about life – it always goes on.
What does not kill you, makes you stronger.