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Freedom must be meaningful

EVERY human deserves freedom. And today, the 2,182 former inmates will be enjoying the gift of freedom following their pardon from incarceration by President Edgar Lungu as part of this year’s Africa Day commemorations today.
This action by President Lungu is in accordance with Article 97 of the Constitution, which provides for a Presidential pardon and substitution of severe punishments imposed on convicted persons.
This year’s gesture by the Zambia Correctional Service parole board executed by the President is significant because it includes 29 female inmates with circumstantial children.
Others pardoned include 2,032 ordinary inmates, 31 old-aged, 25 foreigners, four terminally ill and 29 mentally ill.
Now that the 2,189 have been granted freedom, they begin to experience a new life after incarceration.
As they are being welcomed back into society, the key lesson is around what to do to avoid what led one to go in there.
To err is human. Secondly, society has had serious problems of accepting or integrating people formerly incarcerated.
The levels of stereotyping in some communities of the country are too extreme as some people want to behave holier than thou.
Society needs to change this attitude.
Some people ended up behind bars not because of anything that they did wrong but for lack of an opportunity to be properly represented during the due process of the law.
If the environment exposes former inmates to stigma, then reformation for them will be a tall order. If they cannot fit in, the risks are high that they could slip into their old ways.
The message we should be sending to them is that we are willing to allow them to re-integrate, while reflecting on their past deeds, to reform. This church is key in this effort to help former inmates get re-integrated successfully.
Families should never shun their own, irrespective of the offences they committed. After all, blood is thicker than water.
Former inmates should be accepted back into society wholeheartedly and treated with love.
Also, we must be able to give them a message that there is capacity building for former inmates. Integrating them and building capacity for released prisoners who have been there for many years depends on the collective will of Government, communities and churches.
So the issue is to re-integrate them, give them acceptance, room to show that they are reflecting and willing to let go of old ways. We must not stigmatise them.
The message really should be about total repentance, a complete turn from the misdeeds that got them convicted, and to become useful to society.
One thing they should do is preach against crime and work as counsellors to the young.
In the past, some former inmates went back to their illegal habits so that they could go back to correctional facilities because society rejected them.
Going back behind bars defeats the essence for correction because it implies somebody did not reform while they served the sentence.
We should have a situation where potential employers should be looking forward to engaging former inmates so as to utilise the skills they gained while in correctional facilities.
Churches, on the other hand, should work with organisations such as the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission, the President’s Empowerment Fund and other organisations in soliciting start-up capital for former inmates.
After all, almost all churches have correctional outreach programmes during which they interact with inmates and hear their wishes when they are out of jail.
Churches should be doing more than just of announcing the return of the brothers and sisters back in society during sermons and neglect them after.
This is more so for mothers of circumstantial children who need help to find their feet back in society. The mothers need encouragement, start-up capital and scholarships for their children.
Then, and only then, shall this freedom be meaningful.