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A Tragedy of Lives

edited by Chiedza Musengezi, Irene Staunton

A collection of first-hand stories, based on interviews with former female prisoners, conducted by Zimbabwe Women's Writers. Each story is highly personal and particular. As a body, they document that women who find themselves in prison are often driven by circumstances into a situation where the emotional or material poverty of their lives makes breaking the law the only option. They illustrate how once in prison, women are subjected to punitive or demeaning action; and not infrequently, are regarded as pariahs by their families and friends, and society at large. The stories further shed light on the impact of imprisonment on the children of prisoners, who by virtue of the absence of their mothers, suffer deprivation, which limits their opportunities for a fulfilling life.

The writers pose the challenges: how much responsibility should be borne by the culprits themselves; and how much are their failures an indictment against the whole society, outlining what might be done to prevent the so-called crime and create a more compassionate environment. The stories are supplemented with scholarly essays written by specialists in law, gender and prison reform, who raise some important general issues regarding women, criminal law and punishment regimes.

ISBN 9781779220172 | 340 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2003 | Weaver Press, Zimbabwe | Paperback



"A Tragedy of Lives does a wonderful job of allowing outsiders into the lives of female prisoners."

Pambazuka News

"The contributions in this book raise some very important issues regarding women, criminal law and punishment régimes and should become essential reading for law reformers, legal experts, social workers and prison officials as well as anyone interested in the lives of others." 

Women’s Law Centre, Zimbabwe



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