Answered Prayers: World’s Happiest Prisoner

For four years, he was on death row and at one point weighed 34 kgs. Then his sentence was commuted to life in prison, and now he weighs 115kg.

Job Vhera, imprisoned for murder in 2003, says he is probably the world’s happiest prisoner after being spared the noose. 

“I weigh 115kg,” says the 53-year-old in the courtyard of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. “I do not have sleepless nights. I can assure you that I sleep at 5pm and only wake up the following morning. My secret is peace of mind.”
Prisoners in Zimbabwean Jail

Vhera’s huge frame, neatly shaved hair and clean prison garb are evidence of how he tries to look after himself behind the huge security walls. He was first imprisoned in his Kwekwe hometown and then transferred to Harare where he awaited his darkest hour.

“Five months in prison is equivalent to 50 years for a death row prisoner,” he says slowly.

“It is a traumatic experience. You anticipate death everyday because you do not know when exactly you will be hanged. Inmates on death row are confined to small solitary cells and are out in the yard for only an hour per day. This means one is confined for 23 hours, alone, and with lingering thoughts of death. 

 “I’m told hanging is usually done early in the morning and that inmates are taken from the cells to the hanging place around midnight. Thus death row inmates do not sleep at night, but during the day.”

When Vhera was imprisoned, armed robbers Stephen Chidhumo, Elias Chauke and Edgar Masendeke had just been hanged, marking the end of executions in Zimbabwe. But Vhera hallucinated on many nights. 

“I remember one night, as I was beginning to doze, I heard the door being opened. My heart began to pound. I sat up straight and listened to their footsteps as they drew closer to my cell. “It was over for me. They, however, did not enter. I then heard people singing some church hymns.”

Vhera says his health deteriorated drastically, imagining that the end was nigh. He, however, summoned enough strength to plead for Presidential clemency.

His prayers were answered in 2007 as he was removed from death row. And suddenly, he is now at peace. “Up to this day, I continue to claim my innocence,” he says. 

“My fellow soccer mate was murdered three months after I had an altercation with him. So, I was the suspect and got arrested. The prison is now my home and I have since built my life around it.”

Vhera has become a leader of sorts at Chikurubi, a position that requires him to co-ordinate other inmates for daily chores. He also mediates between inmates and prison warders. An avid soccer fanatic, he follows the sport keenly from inside the prison confines and is now a member of the Johane Masowe eChishanu church.

The man is full of hope, hope that he will be free again. “I hope to see my six children. My wife last visited in 2014 and she was pregnant with my brother’s child. I accepted it. She is human after all. She needs someone to love and take care of her. I can no longer do that. However, I feel I let my children down as some could not complete their education.”

As Vhera walks back to his prison cell, he stops occasionally for a few pleasantries with prison warders. He steps into his cell, optimistic and, of course, grateful to be alive. - Sunday Mail

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