The prison 'journalist'

HARARE - While Simbarashe Chaunoita’s imposing height is intimidating, it is his amazing character that makes him stand out from the rest of his fellow inmates.

Not only is he charming, Chaunoita exudes an inner peace which makes one wonder how such an eloquent man finds himself locked at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, the largest correctional facility in the country.

Inmates, prison officers and visitors are all drawn in by his aura and this is probably due to his oratory skills, coupled with a great sense of humour.

The 40-year-old, who is currently serving a life sentence for murder, is not only the lead singer in the Prodigal Sons Choir, but he is also the resident journalist.

“I am a man of the people, that is why even the prison officers trust and put me in charge of a lot of things,” a cheerful Chaunoita said.

The upbeat “Paparazzi” is in charge of gathering and compiling all of the juicy bits of news happening in and around the highly secured complex for the consumption of information-starved inmates at Chikurubi.

“I was not a journalist before I came to prison, but when I came here I realised that I had the talent. My character has also contributed to my success because I get along with both inmates and officers and this makes it easy for me to gather news,” a more than up-beat Chaunoita said.

Asked how he manages to stay cheerful in light of the fact that he might never set his foot outside the imposing walls of the prison, he retorts: “It is just God, He is the one who makes me keep hope alive and I am currently going through a series of appeals and believing that God will come through for me.”

The father of two daughters says unlike some people who converted to Christianity after their incarceration, he has always been a born-again Christian.

“I have always been a Christian and my faith has helped me to overcome the many challenges one faces in prison,” he said.

In a soul baring interview with the Daily News on the side lines of a graduation ceremony for over 360 inmates who undertook an Art of Living Prison Stress Management and Rehabilitation Training Session last week, Chaunoita said he committed the crime in order to save his brother.

“I was trying to save my brother who was being attacked and in doing so, I ended up committing a crime. When I was convicted I was very distraught at first but I found solace in God.

“Besides, I am appealing and I am positive about the outcome. What also helps me is that I have a very supportive family that visit me often,” he said.

The popular “journalist” says the rehabilitation programmes offered by the Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS) also helps him stay positive in the face of a doomed future.

“I am involved in a lot of sporting activities that take place here. I am also into music and very soon our group (The Prodigal Sons Choir) will release an album. Other programmes like the Art of Living also helps me keep in check,” he said.

The Art of Living stress management course uses various exercises like stretching; breathing techniques and deep relaxation which helps reduce stress.

Rhodes Moyo, ZPS deputy commissioner responsible for rehabilitation, said the course was very beneficial as it helps attack stress which is the root cause of crime among most people.

“Some inmates have reported that after taking part in the breathing exercises, they not only feel stronger and more energised than before but have also become mentally calmer.

“More importantly, they also stated that during the course they learnt to control their negative emotions and transform them. They even managed to gain the ability to focus, concentrate and attract their energies constructively towards activities like studying and equipping themselves for their return to society,” Moyo said.

Other rehabilitation programmes offered by ZPS include education right up to tertiary level, artisan and motor mechanics courses among others.

Chaunoita says he hopes to one day reunite with his wife who works for a mining company and his daughters aged six and 13. - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

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