Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Reporter
CHRISTMAS is often associated with dining, merry-making, shopping and family reunions – for the neglected and hopeless this can be a depressing season as they will be isolated and forgotten.
While the day of the birth of Jesus should bring hope and salvation to everyone including prisoners, the reality is a whole different picture. “Throw away the key,” society would say concerning convicts who committed the most heinous crimes.
While relatives and friends shun the incarcerated, a group of women and men from Bulawayo, who formed an organisation to help the jailed-and-forgotten and named it Jesus Behind Bars (JBB), have filled the gap left by unforgiving relatives.
The JBB membership includes Mr Delma Lupepe, Mr Zibusiso Ncube; a legal practitioner, Mr Banele Moyo who runs Zulu Safaris, Ms Mandisa Mabhena, Mr Thulani Moyo and Ms Mamvura Moyo, who are all businesspeople from Bulawayo.
Not only does JBB focus on hardcore criminals at Khami Maximum Prison on the outskirts of Bulawayo but it is also the brainchild of former inmates who upon release decided to plant seeds of hope in fellow prisoners.
The project which was started in 2018 in partnership with Hillside District Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) is aimed at complementing Government efforts to rehabilitate hard-core criminals.
To date, 518 of these men have been baptised.
Besides offering psycho-social support, the group, which includes prominent businesspersons from Bulawayo, is training the inmates to manufacture toiletries and detergents.
“Five years ago, we resolved to start a ministry targeted at hard-core convicted criminals who are normally outcasts, forgotten and neglected. We had former inmates who also shared their painful experiences and these propelled us to do something as we cannot expect our Government to do everything for our imprisoned members of the public,” said Mr Dumisani Nkomo, one of the founders of JBB.
“Inspired by Matthew 25, we set out to reach the men whom we know committed the worst crimes as some have life sentences. We understood that although convicted, they also deserved a second chance like all of us and we decided to help prison officers in rehabilitating them.”
JBB visits the prison at least once a fortnight and shares meals, lessons and songs with inmates at Khami Maximum Prison.
Sadly, Mr Nkomo noted that the majority of inmates at Khami Maximum come from broken families and never had father figures in their lives.
“We preach to them the gospel of peace which only comes through Jesus and we have seen the hardest core giving their lives and getting baptised. Of the 518 we have baptised since the inception of the programme, some of them are serving life sentences and it’s good to know they have dedicated their lives to Christ although they know they will never be set free from the prison doors.
“Our brothers are criminals but the fact that they are serving means they deserve another chance. They need counselling, many struggle to come to terms with their crimes and it will take us as a people to redeem them because they are still part of us.
“I also wish to encourage fellow men to stop the habit of neglecting children, especially boys, as it breeds angry criminals. Some of them had painful childhood experiences lingering in their minds and we worked flat out to help them accept the past and live with the hope that Jesus loves them regardless.”
JBB is working on drilling a borehole so that inmates can have easy access to water for horticultural projects.
“We are also reviving the prison library, our brothers deserve the latest books and we will soon introduce formal learning so that they do school while in prison. Unlike what people imagine, no one beats inmates but they have committed prison officers who manage and attend to them even when we neglect them as families.”
“We are having Christmas parties for inmates and officers lined up because they too deserve to have fun. We need to also have a day to celebrate prison officers, they are misunderstood but go through a lot of mental damage trying to take care of the very same people that we as people neglect and refuse to visit. We all want criminals to be thrown in prison away from us but we forget that there are humans like us who must take care of them.
“Neglecting these souls does not help anyone because one day they will come out and then give their families headaches, we want to bring total transformation so that they become useful citizens. Some are still struggling to accept what really made them commit those crimes hence we offer psycho-social support. The other thing we want to introduce is a variety of programmes and ensure inmates produce their own soap and toiletries instead of relying on donations.”
He said JBB also helps in reuniting inmates with their families once they are released.
“A few are lucky to have their families accept them while others become stranded once they are released. We, however, find strength in knowing that JBB was also founded by former inmates who managed to get employment and run businesses after serving which means these ones too have hope for a better tomorrow,” he added.
According to Mr Nkomo, stigma and rejection sometimes breed habitual criminals who end up preferring to stay in prison than face their disapproving families.
“When Jesus was born, people asked if there was anything that could come out of Nazareth and we know that’s what we all think about prisons. At the same time, we know everything good can come out of Khami Maximum hence we will continue advocating for families to love, accept and forgive those who wronged them because we all have one Saviour who came to save us from sin.” [email protected]
Article Source: The Chronicle