After a long day at work, all I wanted was to get home and just chill. I had spent the day in meetings and my last meeting was with three formerly incacerated women. Together with another lawyer and a US college professor we wanted to hear from these women and understand how the system works and what worked for them or what didn't work for them. We learnt that for them the system did not help them at all.
One of them was kept in police custody for two months simply because they could not find her brother who committed the crime and she was eventually charged in court and convicted for 25 years for aggravated robbery. Another lady was arrested, charged and convicted for murder together with 9 other people. They were provided a state attorney and despite the fact there was no evidence against them, they were convicted to 9 years in prison, for the simple reason that some one had to pay the price.
The third lady was falsely accused of beating up the neighbor's child and because they wanted her uncle to pay compensation, she was arrested, taken into custody and remanded to Luzira prison where she stayed for 6 months. Every time she appeared in court the complainant realized that there was no one who came to see her or stand for her. This lady was a total orphan and her only relative, her uncle abandoned her. He didn't give her a chance to prove her innocence. As soon the case was dropped and she was released he evicted her and her two daughters out of his house.
As we listened to these stories we learnt that many of these women are in prison for selfish reasons. They either didn't commit the crimes and the state didn't bother with investigations. One of the women narrated how in her case the arresting officer testified in court that he didn't arrest them and had never seen them before. A totally different officer testified against them but with no evidence at all and they were still convicted. Their state appointed lawyer didn't help them in anyway.
Many of them don't understand the crimes that they are convicted of, many of them cant read and write and because of their illiteracy the system is used against them. Because of the corruption in the system, someone has to pay for the crime. What the system doesn't know is that as we destroy innocent people's lives, we are destroying the lives of their children. The children of these women are so damaged and it is so painful. One of the women said she went to prison and her six children were taken to her mother. When she left prison after 9 years, the older boys had dropped out of school and were now in gangs. She cries her out her heart because she was and still is a single mother. She had a small kiosk she was running before she was arrested.
As I was seated so lost in thought, my daughter came and asked me why I looked so sad and a tear rolled down my cheek. I was lucky to be able to see my daughters everyday, to hold them in my arms and tell them how much I loved them. I realized that we take many things for granted and many mothers only dream of such moments, even just for one second. When her older sisters came, I told them about my day. And I told them that we were going to celebrate with these women the next day. My older daughter kept asking questions. She didn't understand why a mother had to go to prison with her child. It didn't make sense to her, why a child had to be imprisoned. If only she knew how many things don't make sense at all but we live through them.
I explained to her that many of these women went to prison while they were pregnant and so they had to be with their babies up to the age of 4. And she kept asking if these mothers had relatives who would take care of these babies and that is when I realized she knew how blessed she was because she had people who check on her and her siblings. I explained to her that many of them have no relatives and people abandoned them when they are arrested.
What is so interesting about human nature is we are quick to judge even before we know the truth. We should always look at life through the eyes of a child. The way they see life is less complicated than the way we see it. In as much we are trying to understand the Justice system through the eyes of these women, their lives will never be the same again. For them the healing process has not even started because they are still trying to find their bearing in life.
One of the women stated that she can never wish prison on her worst enemy. We had a very colorful gift exchange with some of the women who showed up at the women's home. Seeing their faces light up when they received gifts was priceless and a moment I will forever treasure and I am glad it was an experience that I shared with my daughters.
As we draw closer to Christmas, I always reflect on life in the past year. Working with these women in the last couple of months has changed my life. I might have impacted their lives but they have no idea how they have impacted mine in so many ways. I am more hopeful for the future, grateful for each day, I always try to make each day better than yesterday and I am grateful for the people in my life. I have never believed in negativity and working with them has showed me that we always have to look for that shimmer of light. I know that everything happens for a reason and being given an opportunity to meet , talk and listen to these strong women has been a turning point for me. Life has slapped them, beaten them terribly, their hearts are full of visible scars BUT they can smile and laugh, because they have so much hope and faith in life.
Society needs to let their children lead their own lives and not judge them for something that their parents were imprisoned for. One of the ladies is broken because her children were treated like criminals. They didn't believe in the innocence of the mother and quickly judged her and her children. For 25 years as the mother was on death row in prison, her own children were on death row outside prison. They were moved from home to home and mistreated like they were total orphans. This lady's heart is so hurt you can see the pain painted all over her face.
I have learnt from them that we all need to forgive and let go of the past because you only live once and life will always go on matter what. Holding grudges and blaming the past for today or the future will only take us years back. So I am grateful for the women I have interacted with, they have taught me a great deal these last months.
"In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: it goes on." Robert Frost