On a quiet day at the office, I began rifling through the mound of donations, UP Zambia paperwork, activity supplies, and such that had accumulated in the corner of the office. While the purpose was organization and preparation of donations for the Gift of Warmth Collection Drive, I quickly became wrapped up in an unexpected box of artwork created by the incarcerated juveniles.
In this box were paper plates painted with UP Zambia’s slogan “One Day Freedom.” There were paintings thanking UP Zambia for their work, and paintings with prayers to God for freedom and mercy. Letters were mounted on wood planks that chronicled a juvenile’s day in prison and prayers for release, that at one point hung in the UP Zambia office as a reminder of the juveniles they are serving. Gratitude for the work UP Zambia does for these juveniles overwhelmed me, and I felt crushing compassion for those boys who painted these beautiful prayers. They reminded me so much of those I spent my days with in the prisons.
And then my heart dropped. There in my hands was a painting dated about a year and half ago and signed with a name I recognized all too well from my time at Lusaka Central Prison. The weight of his time in prison sat on my shoulders in that moment as I considered all he has suffered at the hands of the justice system following his crime. Yet every day, when he greets me at the desk and I ask him how he is, he responds “I am blessed.” Three years of incarceration that will mean little when it comes to his sentencing. Three years of being 1 of 50 juveniles in a prison with a population of 2,000. Three years of insufferable living conditions and limited court appearances. Three years and no judgment yet. Yet he continues to pray and thank God for what little he does have, because through it all he is blessed.
I wish you too could read the prayers of these young men. I wish you could see past those prison doors, past the barbed wire that lines the concrete walls isolating the juveniles from the outside world. I wish you could meet them, shake their hand, see the humanity within them. I wish you too had the privilege of knowing these juveniles, their transgressions along with their hopes and dreams. Because I am blessed simply by having these juveniles in my life.
I truly believe rehabilitation requires a showing of love and kindness for these young men, and that box of artwork I found is a unique display of the love UP Zambia has for these juveniles. Leaving the juveniles at Lusaka Central Prison was extremely difficult and heart-breaking, but the artwork created over the past two to three years is a reminder that UP Zambia remains as a constant. Beyond legal services, UP Zambia is a source of love and kindness for these juveniles to make sure that they feel that when the world is against them, they have a team on their side. Thank you UP Zambia staff for the limitless support you provide the juveniles in all aspects of their lives. You are difference-makers throughout Zambia, and the juveniles and myself are truly blessed by each and every one of you. One day freedom!