To many people, prison life shutters all their dreams. With the thick walls, high doors and twenty-four hours vigilance; the despair of being in prison is worsened. The episode makes being a prisoner a very undignified experience. Friends are often lost and general relations crushed. Prisoners are looked at with misgivings and considered as ‘bad seeds.’ Thus, the future beyond prison life seems bleak with very little hope for ever amounting to anything. Because of this, many ex-prisoners go back to their old habits due to society’s un-readiness to accept them and lack of means of earning decent life.
The situation is worse when one is taken to Mukobeko Maximum Prison due to its popularity for hanging condemned prisoners. Hopes for rejoining the family get shuttered. Mukobeko Maximum Prison was originally established as a haven of RETRIBUTION. But currently, the Maximum Prison has changed its approach from retribution to correction and imparting an assortment of skills to prisoners.
Why integrating skills training
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop…if prisoners are not kept busy, they are more likely to spend much of their time planning how to escape, especially that most of them are serving long sentences,” noted Superintendent Hastings Chilombe who is Officer-In-Charge for Mukobeko Maximum Prison. Mr. Chilombe added that involving prisoners in a number of TEVET programmes and hands-on work in making various products for the Prison Services kept them active as they spent their time productively.
He said TEVETA and the Zambia Prison Services were partners in security by keeping prisoners busy rather than thinking about how long their prison sentences were and possibly how to escape. “They are pre-occupied with the training and before they knew it their terms would have finished.”
The introduction of life skills training with Zambia Prison Services came into picture with the realisation that reformation should be accompanied with skills. Initial training programmes in included: Shoe Making, Carpentry, Cutting, Designing and Tailoring and Soap Making. Some of these have been phased out.
Current programmes are Carpentry and Joinery, Metal Fabrication, Auto Mechanics, Scalper and Art, and Bricklaying. All the programmes have the component of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is pertinent in making prisoners see opportunities beyond their prison sentence and use their skills to earn a decent living.
Prisoners needed distinct skills for their future, their families and society beyond their imprisonment; as part of the corrective measure being used by the Zambia Prison Services to reform prisoners. Inmates, who traditionally did not have skills, benefit from training provided during incarceration. Through these training programmes, it was envisaged that society would also benefit from prisoners’ skills, thus contributing to the need for a trained workforce and enabling ex-prisoners to make a positive contribution to the society.
“The response from prisoners was bad in the beginning towards training because when they were brought here they believed they will be hanged. They had no hope in anything. They never saw themselves as people who would add value to society and their lives. They also think training is for the educated, those who have completed Grade 12 with bright grades. Changing such a mindset to training is not easy. We start with convincing them to appreciate training. We counsel them to see value in the programme,” Mukobeko Maximum Prison Technical Officer Coster Mwanamwalye started.
Mr. Mwanamwalye said combining skills training and reformation would make a great impact in the lives of prisoners when they were out of incarceration.
The training programmes focus on a number of skills including basic and personal skills:
i. Basic skills
Reading – to enable them understand and interpret various forms of written information
Writing – communicate ideas and facts by creating various types of documents, graphs, and illustrations
Mathematical –to help them perform basic functions and choose appropriate methods of solving practical problems from a variety of mathematical techniques
Listening – to enable them receive, attend to, interpret, and respond to verbal messages and other cues
Speaking – to enable them organise ideas and communicate orally
Thinking skills –enable them think creatively to generate new ideas about various aspects of life
Decision making – enable them specify goals and constraints, generate alternatives, consider risks, and evaluate and choose the best alternative
Problem solving – enable them recognise problems and devise and implement a plan of action which is generally acceptable within the confines of the law
Using the mind’s eye – enable them organise and process symbols, pictures, graphs, objects, and other information
ii. Personal qualities
Responsibility – enable them exert a high level of effort and persevere toward goal attainment.
Self-esteem – enable them believe in themselves-worth and maintain a positive view of themselves
Sociability – enable them demonstrate understanding, friendliness, adaptability, empathy, and politeness in group settings
Self-management – help them do self-assessment accurately, set personal goals, monitor progress, and exhibit self-control
Integrity/honesty – help them choose ethical courses of action
Mr. Chilombe added that prisoners were in all types; most of them having had low levels of education and some did not know English thus making instructors use local languages they were conversant with for them to understand the lessons.
“Individually, their skill levels vary greatly and each person is unique. It is however possible to make some general statements about the skills and competences inmates possess. As a group, they simply do not have good workplace skills and competences. For example, few have good social skills, and many are loners. They have little concept of punctuality, self-management, or taking responsibility for their actions. They do not make good decisions. They often do not know how to plan. They usually do not understand how complex systems work, even for example, the social systems with which they have tangled in getting where they are today. One way to help them gain skills where they have none, and enhance the skills they have, is through training,” he stated.
Mr. Chilombe hinted that prisoners were taught a wide range of skills such as making decisions, working with others, using resources appropriately, building strong personal qualities, and so on; with main focus being on skills that would allow them live productive and happy lives beyond prison.
He said training prisoners helped them develop personally so that they could pursue, develop, hone and master skills that would make them become the best that they could, with all that they had. “Skills training helps them realise and reach for their full potential as human beings.”
Why entrepreneurship training
Entrepreneurship cuts across life. It is an economic empowerment buzzword supported by politicians, championed by non-governmental organisations, reinforced by growing infrastructure of tertiary education and venture capitalists. As a result, entrepreneurs are now emerging from almost anywhere, in any shape and go to any direction. Prisons too can be a haven of enterprising minds and activities.
Assistant Commissioner Richard Mwalwembe said there was a shift from the colonial way of dealing with prisoners (retribution oriented) towards teaching them the art of enterprising, usage of their hands and skill to add value to things around, identifying opportunities and converting them into a livelihood to sustain their wellbeing like any other person.
“Being a prisoner doesn’t make anyone less enterprising nor does it limit their ability to create wealth and jobs for themselves and others,” noted the Assistant Commissioner.
Prison-based entrepreneurship training emerged in the 2000s to teach inmates self-employment skills before their return to society. Students learn the principles of start-up and operations, which include business planning, budgeting, financing, marketing, pricing, etc. The training is premised on the fact that entrepreneurs are pushed or pulled…i.e. some people become entrepreneurs due to circumstantial factors around them, while others are driven by their passion. Pushed entrepreneurs go into business either because they are retrenched, retired, declared redundant or dismissed (for any reason) or they switch to doing business as their only survival means. Circumstances ‘beyond control” force pushed entrepreneurs into venturing into business.
Circumstances that lead someone in prison can be used as the driving force for them to venture into entrepreneurship activities. They can use it to think outside the box, identify opportunities within their surrounding and convert them into sustainable source of living. Combining such mindsets with the skill obtained during their imprisonment, they would be prepared to start some enterprising undertakings for their benefit, their families and society.
Mr. Mwalwembe said a combination of skills among prisoners were important in the reformation process and their re-integration into society after they had served their sentences as they would go back with a business mind, practical competences and high self-esteem.
He said the Zambia Prison Services was optimistic that such an approach would truly result into reformed prisoners who would not go back to their vices because they would discovered their real self and would be ready to put to use their skills especially where an environment for them to flourish was created by communities where they lived.
And one of prisoners Mike Munalula, who is a Metal Fabrication a student, said he had no skill when he was incarcerated as he left school in Grade 9. He added that the skills he had acquired prepared him to start life on a new page. “The skill will help me when I am out of prison. To me this is a life GIFT.”
Mike said he could make beds, window frames and other metal products. “With the construction sector doing well, I can start my own workshop for making and selling building products ranging from iron bars to window frames and others.”