Getting my hair braided is a tedious process that I dread; however, it is an essential procedure to keep my kinky fro under control. Armed with two packs of braids and determination, I proceed to the Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare to get my hair braided. Yes, you read right… I head to Chikurubi Maximum Prison where all your basic hair-dressing needs can be met just outside the women’s prison.
As part of a rehabilitation programme, inmates at the Chikurubi Female prison are encouraged to undertake in gainful employment. Activities vary from vegetable gardening, chicken rearing and of course, hair styling. A group of up to 6 inmates is responsible for the styling, braiding and general chit-chat that any woman has come to expect when she is getting her hair done.
The young ladies, who are serving their time for a wide variety of crimes ranging from stock theft to child negligence, are always more than willing to discuss their lives behind bars and the future they envisage as soon as they have served their time.
Although conditions within Zimbabwe jails leave a lot to be desired, these young ladies have decided to make the most of it. As I sit and have two ladies braiding my hair, I relax and enjoy the familiar chit-chat, playful cattiness and downright attitude I have come to expect in any hair salon. The only real difference is that we have a prison guard with us at all times.
Kudzai (name changed) jokes that when she is released she will rejoin her girlfriends and resume her dancing career. 21 year old Kudzai is serving a 6 year sentence for leaving her two young children unattended overnight in the room she was renting. Her landlord proceeded to call the police on her and the rest is history. According to Kudzai the judge decided to make an example of her and gave her a sentence of 3 years for each child. When asked by one of the patrons, also indulging in this ‘five star’ treatment whether she looked forward to returning to her children, she looked to the side and calmly explained that she had no intention of returning to them as she blamed them for her current predicament. The other inmates all roared in laughter dismissing Kudzai as a crazy young girl. However, looking at her face, I can’t help but wonder if there is some truth in her bitter response.
Like any hair-dressing facility, gossip is rife, with inmates reporting on when the last time they had seen their boyfriends was and whether or not they would ever see them again. The atmosphere is jovial despite the harsh realities of their circumstances and on the other side of the fence we can see all too clearly what these ladies live like on a day-to-day basis. Very basic buildings can be seen, with inmates milling around, some going towards their duties others, who are more serious offenders and therefore not allowed to interact, just sitting.
The food in this facility is basic, with the inmates asking us to bring them chicken next time we come around to get our hair done. Inmates are not permitted to accept money; therefore any good will should be in the form of food or amenities. For just $5 for a weave and $ 7 (2012) for braiding, all paid to the state, you can contribute to acquiring basic necessities such as sanitary towels and maternity goods for inmates who give birth in prison.
Within 5 hours my hair is neatly braided and my mind is open to a very different way of life. The ladies warmly bid me farewell and as I drive away I wonder what life will be like for these women when they are released and smile at the tenacity they show in living each day until their time is done.