Unlike most 24 year olds who should be thinking of completing college or partying, Maria Natangwe was convicted of a crime she claims not to have committed.
She was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 21 October 2009 in Oshakati, for assaulting a neighbour’s 7 year old daughter, but after she made an appeal and because of lack of proof, they reduced her sentence to one year and two months in prison.
“Talking about this really hurts me because I never did anything to this little girl and I was almost sentenced to 10 years for nothing.
“The one year and two months I spent in prison was a heartache for me. Some convicts were very selfish, especially when you tried to interact and seek some closure from them,”adds Maria.
Maria revealed that Oluno Prison in Ondangwa consisted of 25 women in one cell but each slept on their own beds but she detested the lack of privacy in that cell. In terms of eating, they were given three meals a day.
“The food at times was not well prepared, but because of hunger, I had no choice but to eat and this made me miss home-cooked foods. Visitations were classified into groups A-D. The people in group A were allowed to have four letters and three visitors per month, since they were serving three to four years. I was unlucky because I was in group D that wasn’t allowed to have so many visitors. I was allowed to have one letter and a visitor per month and my parents were very supportive and they took turns to visit me during those hard times,” she says.
Maria explained that although her life in prison was difficult, she, however, took a positive turn when some pastors approached her and made her realise that being in prison wasn’t the end of the world.
“The two pastors from Alpha and Crown Financial Department from His People Ministries gave us some Bible courses that took about three to six months to complete. I was awarded a completion certificate. Adding on to this, they taught us about the spiritual life and the relevance of its existence,” says Maria proudly.
“During my last days in prison, Pastor Martin told me about Change, a society in Windhoek that deals with re-integrating ex-offenders into society and assists them into becoming law -abiding members of the community,” states Maria.
Maria mentions that when she was released from prison in January 21 this year, her first days at the Change Society, an organisation that rehabilitates convicted offenders, were terrifying because she was afraid of mingling and being judged with reference to her past.
“The greatest thing about this society is that they didn’t publicise my past and that calmed me. The teachers were patient until I mastered the whole concept of using a computer. These classes took me six months to complete and I was awarded a certificate,” she explains.
After the completion of her course, her teacher, Mr Erwin Tjipetekera, took matters into his own hands and transferred her to Kayec, a school in Wanaheda, Katutura, that helps students to be skilful in technical work such as plumbing, brick laying and welding.
“Some people say electricity is dangerous when tampered with, but as for me, I love the experience because am learning to be an electrician and fashion designer at the same time,” concludes Maria.
Maria says in spite of everything she faced in prison, the best thing that happened to her was learning about God.
This helped her overcome the past. It was a way of making peace with herself and with those who wanted her to fail in life. She says that people who have been in her shoes must hold their heads high since it’s not the end of life.