Eshowe Prison and Restorative Justice

The first day of my stay in rural Amatikulu, I had the opportunity to visit Eshowe Prison and speak with 15-20 female inmates with my SIT cohort. We participated in structured ice breaker activities to get to know each other as part of the prison’s restorative justice program. Our conversations allowed us to touch on a variety of topics such as relationships, family, life in prison, and hopes/dreams. I remember my conversation with two women who were raised by their grandmothers (“Gogos”). One was in prison for fighting and the other was in prison for stealing. The women both stated that seeing their Gogos work and provide for their families made them feel empowered to do the same despite traditional gender roles in Zulu culture. I had similar memories of my grandmother growing up. When I was living with my father while my grandmother was still alive, she acted as the head of household. My grandmother cooked all of the meals and took care of me and my sisters while my father worked. She was my role model, and I hoped to have a similar work ethic as her when I got older. 

When I reflect on my visit to Eshowe Prison now, I wonder how the women are doing given the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus. They already have limited contact with the outside world, but the lockdown measures in South Africa have isolated them further. I have also been feeling very empathetic to the conditions prisoners are subjected to in the United States that become exacerbated in a global pandemic such as this. Prisons are starting to become the epicenters of the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States with Cook County Jail immediately coming to mind and lack the proper resources to contain the spread. While the focus of my visit at Eshowe Prison was restorative justice, I would like to see burgeoning conversations include the importance of communal healing and rehabilitation over imprisonment. For me, restorative justice does not involve leaving a vulnerable group like prisoners susceptible to viruses and diseases without the proper resources to safeguard their health. The way we should measure our success of combatting the Coronavirus is by taking a look at its impact on marginalized communities and reducing the casualties where people are hit the hardest.

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