NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
A DOORMAT made from what was once her prison uniform now welcomes you upon entry into her home.
Susan Chimuka has good reason to smile now that her movements are no longer restricted by prison bars.
In November 2015 she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Her crime was being found in possession of government trophy for which she would be separated from her three boys for two years.
Susan was devastated at the prospect of not living with her sons for two whole years. Her oldest son Charles was only 13 at the time, while her youngest, Tyson, was three years old.
The only adult living with the boys was their step-father who at the time of Susan’s imprisonment was gravely ill.
Shortly after she was sentenced, the boys’ stepfather died and none of their mother’s relatives was willing to look after them.
At the tender age of 13, Charles took up the role of guardian of his younger brothers.
Their case eventually came to the attention of the Zambia Prison Fellowship (ZPF) and the fellowship’s Lusaka care group chairperson, Paul Swala, began checking on the boys every week.
Through the ZPF, the boys would receive basic necessities to help them get by.
“When I met their mother in prison, I decided to go and see how bad the situation was for myself,” Pastor Swala says.
While he paid visits to the boys, he also tried to find other ways to help them, particularly through the Social Welfare Department under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare.
But the department was unsupportive on the different occasions he approached it, making it difficult for him to place the boys in an orphanage until the time of their mother’s release.
The fellowship also began pushing for Susan’s early release, knowing that for as long as she remained in prison, the boys’ vulnerable position was not likely to change.
When Independence Day arrived last year, Pastor Swala and other members of the ZPF hoped that Susan would get the chance of an early release through a presidential pardon but the day came and went and the three boys remained living without a parent or guardian.
After the publication of her story and her children’s struggle for survival came out in the Zambia Daily Mail dated March 14, 2017, some sympathetic readers pledged material and financial support.
And then on May 25 (Africa Freedom Day) this year, Susan’s dilemma came to a sudden end. She was finally accorded a pardon by President Edgar Lungu. It was nearly six months shy of her official release date in November, 2017.
An elated Susan could hardly believe the news when it reached her ears. Prison life had not been too rough for her but there was no place she desired to be more than with her three boys.
“The boys used to complain that they would watch other children welcome their parents home and wonder when their turn would come again,” she shared at her home in Ng’ombe.
At some point, her sons resigned to the fact that they would not see her until the two- year sentence elapsed. Since her release, all the three boys have returned to school.
“I feel very happy to be back home. My children kept saying they didn’t think I would be released early,” she says.
While she was in prison, Pastor Swala on occasions made up for her absence through his visits to the boys. That was the boys’ chance to experience the excitement of welcoming a guardian home in the same way they saw other children receive their parents after a long workday.
Upon her release, Susan started thinking straightaway of how she was going to make money to take care of her sons.
She now wants to start selling charcoal and making doormats for sale.
“I’m thinking of selling doormats and also starting business by selling charcoal,” she says. “I also want to be travelling to the village to order maize and groundnuts because those can make me money at least.”
Being in prison may have separated her from her children, but she came out of it more skilled than she was before.
In prison she was taught tailoring skills as well as agriculture. She even learnt how to make mats like the one her visitors are now wiping their feet on.
Although she never went beyond the first level in tailoring, she is still confident she can make a living based on what she already knows as she tries to ensure a secure life for her sons.
Charles, her first son, was at school while his mother was being interviewed for the first time since her release.
“I really don’t have anything to say. I am just happy that my mother is back,” he said.
Every day, he walks from Ng’ombe township to Garden Hill School in Garden to attend class. He covers at least five kilometres on foot and the fellowship is looking into assisting him with a bicycle so that he can be getting to school faster.
The fellowship also gave Susan K2,000 since her release to help her get back on her feet.
“That money will help me a lot just like the things people were donating to my children through the fellowship while I was in prison. I told my children that God makes a way where there isn’t one and He works through people,” a grateful Susan said.
She wasn’t sure where to start from after leaving prison but is experiencing little miracles each day and watching her life come back together piece by piece.
More importantly, her sons have their mother back and her doormat is a daily reminder that she is now free.
If you wish to give any material or financial assistance to Susan Chimuka, you may contact the Zambia Prison Fellowship through Pastor Paul Swala on 0977576418.