TPHF Brings Smiles and Hope to Female Ex-Prisoners
11 December 2023
Life is never easy for prisoners, especially women, as they face a barrage of challenges once they step their foot out of prison to taste freedom, especially if they have stayed in detention for a long period. Despite grappling with social, health, and economic challenges such as rejection by family members and being stigmatized by society, they also struggle to adjust to a new environment after spending many years in jail.
Also, the situation is exacerbated by lack of stakeholders in the country providing welfare services required by the female ex-prisoners upon release from prison. The lack of government policies or programs that are designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders into society after their jail life is also a big challenge.
It is unfortunate that all these challenges largely compromise the effectiveness of offender reintegration and increase the chances of re-offending amongst ex-offenders.
Sofia, and her colleagues narrate the challenges they faced after serving their jail terms and how the Tanzania Prisoners Hope Foundation (TPHF) intervened to restore their fading hopes of smooth integration into the society.
“I spent nine years in prison from 2013 to 2021 for a crime I didn't commit. It was my child's father who committed the offense and ran away, leading to my arrest. I went to prison with my two-month-old child, and after two years, I had to take him out and I continued with my sentence. "When I was released, I returned to the community. I felt like a stranger, having lost everything. I had nowhere to go. While I was still in jail my man secretly came to the place we were staying and sold off everything. My mother passed away while I was incarcerated, so when I got out, I had no place to stay. I went to live with my daughter, and up to now, I'm still there,” Sofia said.
She added that the situation affected her psychologically, and she prayed to God to let her die and escape this condition. However, her life changed for the better when she received a call from TPHF to attend a meeting.
“I felt like God remembered me and heard my cry. Sincerely, that meeting was like a new beginning for us. We were taught many things and received counseling. We were encouraged that there is life after prison. That one-day session restored hope in our lives. You know, when you come out of prison and you've lost everything. So, even economically, you're in a bad situation." narrated Salma. Another ex-prisoner, Rehema also narrated her predicament:
_“I have been in prison for almost four years ( 2019-2023). I was a guarantor for a person whose phone was misused, so I ended up in prison. When I came out, I was so desperate to the extent that I wanted to kill myself. I went to the hospital and asked the doctor if there was a way to erase this memory from my head. _
“When I returned home from prison, life was never easy as everyone saw me as a criminal. People, including my blood relatives, isolated me. Everywhere I went I was not welcome. I lost everything. I was employed in a parastatal, but I lost my job, including the savings I had in social groups eg Vicoba, and when I went to ask to rejoin, members rejected me. If I go somewhere to ask for a job, I can't find it. It's like some people tell them that I am an ex-prisoner. My relatives do not visit me nor their children. They say I am not a good person. I was married, but after these challenges my partner left and found another woman. You can imagine such a life,” Rehema said.
She recalls the day she received a phone call from TPHF as a miracle. And, her life has changed for the better as she met different people and they exchanged ideas.
_“In that one day, I saw a breakthrough. I realized that there are people who still love and appreciate us. The sessions saw us being given words of comfort and I found myself becoming a human being again. For the first time I saw that there was light at the end of a dark tunnel and I slept so peacefully the day I participated in that workshop,” _Rehema added.
The Ex-prisoners’ Women Empowerment Project has become a source of hope and breakthrough for Salma and her colleagues. The project is implemented by TPHF with support from Women Fund Tanzania.
The objectives of the project which has been implemented since July 2023 include; Reducing the level of stress and restoring mental health for women ex-prisoners, increasing the employment rate among ex-prisoners, and decreasing the level of poverty and dependent nature among ex-detainees.
Through the project, TPHF identified 42 ex-prisoners, and established their post-release baseline social and economic situations. Speaking about the project the TPHF Director, Lucas Mwimo, explained that they conducted a one-day workshop that brought together the women and other stakeholders including representatives from Segerea prison and officers from the Regional Prison Office, Regional welfare officers, media, financial institutions etc.
He added that in that workshop, the ex-prisoners got the opportunity to present challenges they were facing, they were empowered through entrepreneurship training, received counseling and knowledge on their rights.
“After the first session of bringing them together, we also organized another session to capacitate them to be able to form their group. The aim was to help them understand the importance of collective effort including easier access to different stakeholders and one voice in advocating for their rights,” Mwimo said.
He added that as a result of the project activities, there is improved awareness among the female ex-prisoners on their rights, which has contributed to greater self-confidence and empowerment.
Mwimo also said that the project's policy-focused discussions led to initiating advocacy efforts aimed at improving the transition process from prisons to the community and that counseling services restored peace of mind to ex-prisoners who had depression.