Visiting time

It was always difficult to know what to say when we went to visit dad in prison. Wishing him happy birthday and talking about my life on the 'outside' seemed trivial and made me feel uncomfortable, but I came to realise that it was the very fact that his family was doing OK that gave him some kind of comfort. In his journals he says time and time again how visits from family and friends gave him the strength to go from one visitation to the next.  He harboured a guilt that the decisions that he had made for his life had so adversely affected our lives. Having said that, he believed so passionately that the Zambian people needed to be freed from the One Party State system, which was choking the country, that he would have done it all again if necessary.

On one visit to Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe, soon after my dads sentence had been commuted to 'Life', we had the rare privilege of sitting with him in the Prison Commanders office. Over the years I had only been able to touch and hug my father on a handful of occasions, as usually visitations consisted of us sitting on opposite sides of a wire mesh partition, with a warder listening to our every word. On this particular day we hugged, despite the protestations of the prison warder, and held hands. What a great feeling to hold my dad again. As we embraced a second time Dad whispered in my ear, "Clive, if you have any money, carefully slip it into my pocket". Trying to look as calm as possible I duly pulled out the little money I had  and clumsily passed it to my dad. To my horror, the warder had spotted the whole transaction. As cool and as calm as ever, dad said 'don't worry, there is nothing he can do to me'. I wasn't convinced having just the week before found my mums secret  hiding place for dads journals. I had read pages and pages about the conditions in the prisons and what really goes on behind those high walls. I cried all the way back to Lusaka and had nightmares for the next few years, forever worrying about the consequences for my father for my botched smuggling efforts.

I became aware from the journals that on visiting days dad would ensure that he wore a freshly cleaned and pressed prison uniform in case he had visitors. He generally tried to look as good as he could and be as cheerful as possible, so as to give us the false impression that things were not as bad as we were probably imagining . Over the many years of visiting the prison I got to know what the different prison uniforms meant. The white shorts and white shirt that my father wore identified him as a condemned prisoner, long trousers were given to Special stage prisoners as well some lifers and 'trustee' prisoners. Prisoners who had escaped and been recaptured wore the same uniform except they had the word 'Escapee' printed on the back of their shirts. Seeing grown men walking around in their shorts and a T'Shirts seemed just another tool to demean the inmates, Men in boys clothing!

I hope my brother Edward will forgive me as I now quote my dads thoughts on one of his visits when he took Lynn, his then girlfriend,to be introduced to EJS.

26th October 1986, Kabwe.
Stella, Edward and Lynn came to visit. Stella looked very well, and Edward is so grown I felt proud to be his father. What's more, he seems quite responsible despite the rather deceptive carefree attitude. Lynn, I quickly warmed up to her. I think she is very sharp and knows her mind. i would be very happy for her to be my daughter in-law. She's probably the type of girl who would compliment and calm down Edwards exuberance. It was difficult to say what was uppermost in all our minds with eager ears around to gloat over what we would say.

Next month it will be 25 years since that entry was made in the journal. I suppose the reason why this entry jumped out at me was that last month Edward and Lynn came to visit, here in Lusaka. This was the first time Lynn had been back since 1986. Dad ( EJS), only met Lynn for a short time and knew very quickly that she was the girl for Ed. After a twenty or more year hiatus, Ed jnr. came to the same realisation, thanks Lynn for taking him back!! Lynn, sorry for this public display of affection, but thanks for looking after that big brother of mine. Ed, I have never told you how important you were for me and mum and the bros. during those difficult times.

Visiting time. If you know anyone in one of our prisons, why not take the time to pay them a visit. I am sure they would really appreciate it. I wonder if the prisons are any better today than they were back then, I suspect they are much worse.


Dorah said…
Stumbled on this blog and glad I did. Very poignant and thought provoking.

You've earned a new fan.
Anonymous said…
moving story. thank you for sharing this.