"Forgiveness is the attribute for the strong." Gandhi
No mother ever wants to be separated from her children. And no mother should be separated from her children. Justine had never ever suspected that one day she would be taken away from her children for 25 years.
Before that fateful day in 1995, Justine led a very simple life. She was a passion fruit farmer in Kasese. She would travel with her passion fruits to Kampala, sell and travel back to the farm. Fate had it that day, as she was loading the passion fruits on to the track, her brother who was a solider at the time was in the area. He insisted that she load her produce on a truck and sit with him in the same taxi that he was travelling as well. As soon as she sat next to him, he told her that once the taxi stops in Masaka she should get out and go and visit their mother in the village. Angered by this statement she told him she had business to handle and besides she wasn’t taking orders from him.
When the taxi stopped in Masaka her brother who was travelling with a gun robbed some people in the taxi and ran off. Out of fear the members in the taxi all ran in different directions and one of the ladies who ran with Justine hurt her hand in the process. They went to the nearby police station to report the matter and instead the two ladies were detained. Justine’s friend was taken to hospital since she was in so much pain. Justine was detained in the police station for two months on grounds that she knew where her brother was. After the two months she was taken to court and charged with aggravated robbery and remanded to Luzira prison. She was later convicted and sentenced to death, her brother fled to Sweden, but before he did he visited the prison and informed the prisoner warder that his sister was innocent.
At the time of her conviction her children were all below the age of 10. Speaking about her children and that point in her life is too painful for her. She can hardly say a word without her eyes swelling with tears. She spent 25 years in prison for a crime she had no idea about. What hurt her the most is that her brother brought her all this misfortune.
She was on death row for 10 years, sleeping on the cold floor and in fear of not knowing when her life would be taken. She told me of a time one of the inmates on death row died and she was forced to sleep in the same room with the body for two days until the body was taken for burial. She says what kept her alive was her faith in God and the hope that one she would be reunited with her children. While in prison she lost her husband, her father and all her siblings on the father’s side.
Justine was released from Luzira prison four years ago. She is a free woman now who has failed to live her life. She lost so many years in prison, she was robbed of the chance to grow up her children. Her children were robbed of their childhood with their mother. All of them are suffering from the loss of love. The pain that is imprinted in this lady’s heart is unimaginable.
While in prison she stopped one of the inmates from aborting her child. When Justine left prison, this same inmate left after two months. She looked for where Justine lived and dumped her with the child claiming she was now Justine’s child. Justine is trying to mother this child and give her the love she would have given her own children.
Listening to these women’s stories is very heart breaking and they make you appreciate every single day of your life. You appreciate every moment you share with your family and loved ones. Many times I am so speechless because of the horror that many of them have gone through in prison.
Many of them didn’t want us to use their names because of the trauma that they are still facing. Fatima (not real name) was imprisoned for assault. Her twin daughters were raped by the neighbors’ 14 year old son. When the matter was reported to police the boy was sent to a juvenile prison but his mother wanted revenge on Fatima. She kept insulting her until one day when Fatima beat her up and was charged and convicted to four years in prison. That is when her life changed completely. She says on her first day she was taken to a swamp to cut grass for the cows. Their bodies were deep in the swamp but they had to cut grass and on this particular day, they found a dead body of a man. Because she was a strong woman she was put in charge of the other prisoners in her ward. She served her sentence and is out of prison trying to catch up on the time she lost with her children especially the girls who are still going through the trauma of being raped at 9 years.
Hellen (not real name) narrates her ordeal when she fell sick in prison and for her to get medical help, she had to have sex with the prison warder and the doctor at the hospital. She got pregnant and had to abort within the prison. She almost lost her life but is grateful that she lived through this traumatic ordeal.
Amina (not real name) grew up with her uncle since she was a total orphan. She has two children with two different men. The first man was murdered and the second one was HIV positive who gave her the disease and run off to his village to die. On the day she was arrested she had gone to get her child from the well. Her 8 year old went with the neighbors children. The neighbor’s child fell and hurt herself and Amina was accused of beating her up. This false accusation was a way the neighbor thought she would get some money from Amina’s uncle who was rich. Amina’s uncle didn’t want to hear Amina’s story and insisted that the matter is handled by police to its completion. Amina was sent to prison and was on remand for 6 months. She says what helped her is her second daughter fell so sick to the point of death and that is when the neighbor decided to withdraw the case. When she was released from hospital her Uncle evicted her from the room she was staying with her two daughters. On the street with her daughters and few belongings she was approached by some young people from the nearby church. These people prayed for her and took her to spend the weekend in their church. They found her a room, paid for her rent for three months and even got her a job. Because of what they did for her she accepted Jesus as her Lord and savior. She is now struggling to look after her children though she is weak because of the disease but her hope and faith keep her going each day.
As a mother our hearts are always with our children. When a woman is convicted all she thinks of is her children and all the children think about is their mother. My aunt once told me that however wicked a mother is she is someone's mother and that right can never be taken away from her. And you can only have one mother. For many of these women prison was not meant for them. They were wrongly imprisoned and now have to deal with the consequences of a faulty and very corrupt justice system. What keeps them going is the hope for a better future. Talking to them and listening to them is the first step towards healing. The healing process is not a simple one because they have lost so much and have to rebuild their lives. Seeing them smile is hope enough for me that they will survive the storm.
"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." Aristotle Onassis