Kabwe Medium Prison facility: an oasis south of the Sahara, where justice is relatively enjoyable. Compared to the congested—and downright inhumane—prisons of the city, Kabwe Medium was a model of responsible imprisonment. The children were very polite and took pride in keeping their quarters clean. They also took pride in playing chess, which was the ostensible reason for UP Zambia’s visit. Apparently, the juveniles play chess every night. Some had been at Kabwe Medium for four years, so they had become pretty good. The interns lost every time.
So the chess was a smashing success, and the prison conditions were reasonable: a bed for every kid, no contagious skin infections, a teacher who cared about mentoring his pupils, a garden the prisoners could actually eat from, and enough space to play football. Unfortunately, the interminable detainments were familiar. Some juveniles who couldn’t afford bail informed us that they had been on remand for over three years; they might receive a reform school sentence and not have their time-served recognized. But that’s not a strike against the prison facility, it’s a failure stemming from the backlogged judiciary.
America has a legal doctrine called eminent domain, where the government requires citizens to sell their property to the government at market value. This practice creates the space to build necessary roads and structures.
It seems Lusaka Central Prison could benefit from a small eminent domain expansion to provide more space for the prisoners and a bigger buffer between the community and the prisoners. As it stands today, the community is in the backyard, close enough for a prison guard to do business with the citizens. Lusaka Central Prison could also benefit from a larger garden. The Kabwe kids regularly nibbled the leafy greens, while the Lusaka kids have a strict diet of cornmeal.
Lastly, the Kabwe kids had a clear leader, their disciplined teacher. The kids didn’t litter or else they would hear an earful from their teacher. Good men need to step up and provide the juveniles of Zambia a father figure. Of course, when so many basic necessities are absent, it may seem impossible to impart good habits in a place so void of order.
As the Kabwe community choir was singing under a tree in the distance, I felt something that I hadn’t often felt when visiting other prisons—hope. When all of the basic needs are met the imagination can wander. In that regard, the rehabilitative potential of Kabwe Medium rivals the best prisons in the world. Spacious, green and humble.