November 4, 2017 was a day of renewal and confession for 123 inmates from Chikurubi Farm Prison.

The criminals, who were convicted of serious offences, sat patiently in the prison chapel, waiting for their turn to be baptised.

 As they emerged from the baptism font, the inmates took their first steps into a new life, never mind that they remained prisoners.For Christians, baptism is an act of obedience, symbolising the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life and the resurrection to walk in newness of life.

In short, it is called being born again.

Among the recently baptised prisoners was 32-year-old Prayer Sigauke, who was convicted of rape in 2008 and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

He left his wife and four children in Gokwe after conviction interrupted their eight years of marriage.

Sigauke used to do drama in Gokwe and was popular in primary and secondary schools for his acts.

But in those audiences were his potential victims.

Now nearing the end of his prison term, and after uncountable counselling sessions and church services, he feels the old Sigauke has died.

“I know I wronged many and no-one can ever understand the shame I feel right now. I heard my wife remarried, but I would love to one day reconcile and ask for forgiveness; not only from her but also from those I wronged,” he said.

This is one chapter of his life that he regrets.

The second chapter he loathes is that of sodomising other inmates. Sigauke says all that is now in the past.

In 2010, 26-year-old Daniel Mutema entered Chikurubi to serve a 12-year sentence after pleading guilty to armed robbery. Three of his mates intentionally ate poisoned food and died.

“For the many years I have been in prison, all I could think of was finding ways of getting out of here. The criminal mind that brought me in here kept signalling me to make plans to escape prison.

‘‘I even planned to continue with crime after leaving prison but God spoke to me,” said Mutema.

He says God spoke to him in a dream and he was converted and was baptised. But he still feels bad about the things he did.

“I do not know how exactly to ask for forgiveness from all those that I wronged. My heart yearns for forgiveness and that I be able to advance the Kingdom of God,” said Mutema.

For inmates, baptism is a mixture of overwhelming joy and anxiety. They are happy to be born again, they are anxious for forgiveness.

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services deputy chaplain Gift Chirara says confession is the first step.

“We anticipate a change of lifestyle from these inmates after taking this courageous step of repenting and baptism; with programmes like Another Chance which are meant to help them reunite with the ones they wronged. For some, exposing their skeletons to other inmates is something they cannot attempt.

“‘I cannot let my mates hear of my past, they will prey on my weaknesses.’ ‘I don’t want them to know about my guilty conscience because this will make me a laughing stock in here and make me a weak fellow.’

“Although they have received Christ as their personal saviour, the inmates still want to keep their tales away from their mates,” said Chirara.