Since 2014, in what has become UP Zambia tradition, the organization has conducted Saturday prison visits to Kamwala emand prison for juveniles at the facility. So like most Saturdays, January 26th was all planned out. This time was different though, as we had people joining us from a partner organisation.
Nevertheless, the routine remained the same for me - prison visit, then town, and then home (or so I thought).
I decided to get on a cab to avoid the hustle and time delays of Lusaka's minibuses. I headed for the nearest taxi rank. Immediately the cab drivers saw me, everyone but one cab driver was shouting for me to use their cab. I went to that one man who didn't seem bothered by what was going on around him.
I got on and put on my seat belt in readiness to start off.
"Good Morning, where to?" he asked.
"Morning, Kamwala Remand Prison," I responded. And off we went. I was trying to figure out what topic of conversation to break the awkward silence.
"Are you visiting amyone in particular at the prison?" He asked with a smile (I was probably his first client).
"No, I actually work there as part of our organization’s work with the juveniles…"
"With Sara (UP Zambia director) right? " he interrupted.
Surprised at his question I responded in the affirmative and asked him how he knew her.
“My name is Gift,” he responded. "Once you said you said you work with juveniles in conflict with the law, I knew it was Sara. Because you guys are always at the facilities every week unlike other organizations that come once a month and others during festive celebrations."
He then went on to tell me how UP Zambia has had an impact with their work and how he had only been released from prison 3 months ago.
Gift was arrested on drug related offence and was eventually convicted and sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison. After being released he found a job as a taxi driver and has been working ever since.
His story gave me a sense of satisfaction in the work we do as an organization and the environment we do it from.
So often you find yourself mentally drained from hitting closed doors when you chase up cases or files at court, or from clients not being truthful and messing up your whole case plan.
Encounters with someone like Gift gives us a renewed sense of energy and hope, that the work we do does not go unnoticed. And that there are people out there who appreciate our efforts.
So dear colleagues, as we go around these streets of Lusaka and we notice people stare at us and murmur to themselves. Or as we go shopping in Lusaka’s many malls and we see people gaze at us for no apparent reason, be not uncomfortable or scared, It could be one of your many former clients.
Humanity is in all of us but very few of us are willing to sacrifice our comfort and pleasures so that others can find meaning from our experiences.
This was my pre-prison visit “Gift”.
Written by Salimu Mwalukasa.