Growing up in the streets of Kitwe, the only City with a surname in my great nation Zambia, Nkana-Kitwe, I had it all; a good Life, a caring Family, a Great School and great friends. As misfortune would have it, I aligned myself with a seemingly great group of boys and girls. This my new gang of friends was dubbed “The Gumbos” by all group members. Joining the group was informal but strict, all one needed to do is show an intense desire to do everything as the norms of the group demanded. Most outsiders envied the love, the unusual friendship, the nice clothes, the money, that was characteristic of members of “The Gumbos” but outsiders never understood what being a member of that group entailed. Once you became a member and became aware of what was expected of you, all new members tried hard to leave including myself. But one untold rule was that once one became a member, one couldn’t get out of the group, not without fatal consequences. And thus started my sorry journey in “The Gumbos” at a tender age of 18, right out of high school. I tried to get out of it at the beginning and every time I would get a severe beating because no one was allowed to leave at their own accord lest they divulge the secrets of the gang to outsiders. This caused all group members to be scared of leaving. To those who weren’t members, we were just another group of friends, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let me give you some insights into what this group “The Gumbos” was. It was a group of drunks, smokers, and thieves-we were young hardened criminals. To make money as a gang, we were required to go out and steal, from innocent people’s homes including our own, from unsuspecting shoppers in the town centre and from just anyone passing us by alone who was weak enough but appeared to have money and valuables on them.
Our young lives were being threatened daily and we couldn’t bring ourselves to tell anybody outside the group, not even our parents for fear of being branded snitches. With time beer drinking, smoking, promiscuity and stealing became a daily and normal part of my life. I became so used that I never saw the wrong I was doing, when my parents would sit me down to talk to me, I would just sit there pretending to be listening, I was deviant, I was happy, I was scared but the group’s ways of life had became internalized in me. It felt great not being broke all the time and being a part of this group which felt like my new family, where everyone gave each other a warm attention and affection.
One afternoon, an afternoon like any other, a year after I had joined “The Gumbos” as we sat smoking cigarettes with my friends, a beautiful woman with a laptop bag and expensive Gucci handbag passed us by. Her beauty was not what attracted us to her but what she carried appeared very valuable to our thieving eyes. And so in our own language we communicated. Jayjay and Sincha my friends started following her behind with me and TomTom ahead of her. We had kind of enveloped her minus her even suspecting from the nice clothes we wore.
She took a corner and and JayJay and TomTom pounced on her, she tried to fight them off, she dropped her laptop bag and ran towards me and TomTom not knowing that we were together. TomTom then started dragging her into a nearby bush, I froze. From the time I joined “The Gumbos” it was my first time I actually saw a poor weak woman being overpowered and dragged on the gravel road like a pocket of sand. Sincha and JayJay hit me hard to reawaken me to the danger we were in. we needed to finish quickly and run away. I grabbed her handbag, looking inside I saw a lot of batches of money. We heard someone approaching, looking behind us, we saw two men; we needed to scamper in different directions to make it hard for whoever was coming to find us. I ran with all my might, bag in hand but they caught up with me. My friends never came back for me. They overpowered me and called the police.
When the police arrived they handcuffed me and threw me in their car, and I saw an ambulance stop behind the police vehicle for the bleeding woman, I pleaded with her but she was in so much pain to even pay attention to me.
I was put in cells and later moved to Kamfinsa prison. My case did not go to trial until 1 year 9 months later, I pleaded guilty and was slapped 15 years rigorous imprisonment. My supposed gang friends were never found and they never even once visited me in prison. My own birth family scarcely visited. I had disappointed them, they had abandoned me. They had great plans for my life, plans to go to college and make something of my life but I never listened.
But I had one interesting visitor every other weekend, my victim. The same woman who happened to be the reason I was behind bars. She encouraged me and helped me to look at my life differently. I served my term and now I have to start from scratch.
A new beginning awaits me. I have another chance to prove to my family that I am worth something. Being accepted back into our society, the real society isn’t easy at all after serving time behind bars. Starting over, much less getting a job is so hard, but I will not give up. I’ll do my utmost to never return to my life as I knew it 15 years ago. A lot has changed from the time I walked these streets. I wasted almost two decades of my life all because I wanted to belong to a group that caused many a heartache.
I do not have everything figured out yet, but I can confidently say-STILL! I STAND! That is my motto now to be able to get through each day. I long to pay back to society for all the evils, all the heartaches, all the tears and misery I caused. I am a new man, if only everyone can look at me in that way. I have changed, I’m turning my life around, please forgive me and accept me and most of all help me to be a better man.
I urge all my readers never to get trapped in a life of shortcuts. Whatever you do, put in your level best. Even if you are a sweeper let people say, there goes a great sweeper. Do not be like me. Time wasted is never recovered. Trust me, I know. Honesty, truth, sincerity and love are the virtues that you should always strive to possess. I went into prison a young lost man but now I have found myself. Still! I Stand.