NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Kitwe
WHEN a prisons officer called out her name, Helen Mwape wailed loudly in response because she had received the unexpected, a pardon.
Mwape, who was serving a nine month sentence at Kamfinsa Correctional Facility quickly jumped out of the crowd, waiving her hands in the air and glorifying God at the thought of going home before completing her prison sentence.
In her excitement, she hugged her fellow inmates who just watched and secretly admired her. She was one of the inmates on the list of pardoned prisoners.
With tears rolling down her face, the emotional Helen, who at that point failed to walk, crumbled to the ground and crawled whilst wailing.
She could not believe that she was going home after serving five months, out of nine, for assaulting a friend.
During Christmas, President Lungu pardoned 125 prisoners countrywide using the powers vested in him under the Zambian Constitution, of which 24 were from the Copperbelt and Helen was one of them.
In an interview at her home in Kitwe’s Kwacha township, Helen recalls how the magistrate at the Kitwe Magistrate Court handed down her sentence of nine months imprisonment, with only her grandfather, as the only relative to give her the necessary support.
Helen said it all started when she went to drink beer at a nearby night-club in Kwacha with her friend, Florence Mwaba and the two picked a fight.
“I hit Florence with a bottle on the neck and she sustained serious injuries. One of the injury was bad such that she had two stitches to cover it up,” she said.
Helen, who is the first born in a family of five, said she regrets what she did and wants Florence to forgive her.
She said being in prison is not easy because there is no time for playing but hard work only.
Being at Kamfinsa has transformed Helen into a better person because she is now a born again Christian, who is more focused on doing the work of God.
To confirm the change I her life, Helen wore a Rosary around her neck. She also a member of the Kamfinsa cultural dance troupe.
“It is better to look like a fool when somebody picks a fight with you because that place (Kamfinsa) is not a good place to be. You have to work throughout,” Helen narrated.
Helen still bears the traits of prison culture as she could, in the course of the interview, mistakenly respond to questions by saying ‘Bwana Mkumbwa,’ a word used to show respect to prison warders.
“I just have to get used to answering using ‘Mukwai’ because in prison, we used to say ‘Bwana Mkumbwa’, so when people are calling me, I answer like that. I even mistakenly call my mother ‘Bwana Mkubwa’ sometimes,” she said.
Though she is happy to be home, she misses her friends at the prison.
Helen, who has a one-year-old baby said society has welcomed her and that she is happy to be reunited with her child.
She is grateful to President Lungu for pardoning her and she wants respond to the gesture by being a good woman in society.
From the skills imparted to inmates, Helen has come out armed with a knowledge of plaiting hair and making pancakes which she hopes to put to use now that she out of prison.
She also wants to take advantage of the gesture shown by Copperbelt Minister Bowman Lusambo who has asked the pardoned inmates to submit project proposals for possible funding.
She is keen to start a charcoal selling business.
And her heart goes out to her friends who are still serving at Kamfinsa whom she prays for everyday so that they could also be released one day.
Helen’s mother, Elizabeth Mwape, is happy that her daughter is out of prison after being away for five months. And she has seen the change in her daughter.
Ms Mwape, 38, said Helen was a stubborn child before she went to prison. She refused to do most of the house chores and answered rudely when she was being advised.
“I have a changed Helen now. She is mature and she no longer talks back at me. I have also noticed that she is a prayer warrior,” she said.
Ms Mwape said it was not easy for her to visit Helen in prison because Kamfinsa is far and she did not have enough money to spend on transport.
“I was the only person who visited her in prison. Life was not easy. I visited her at least three times in a months,” she lamented.
Ms Mwape thanked President Lungu for pardoning her daughter and asked God to bless him for what he has done for her family.