I was going to prison. I know it’s weird but I was somehow looking forward to it. A mixture of anticipation, anxiety, and curiosity filled me as that fateful Saturday drew close. Prison. What was it going to be like? I wondered.
I’m innocent! I know a lot going to people going to prison say that but please, believe me! I had not committed any crime. I was headed to Kamiti Medium Security Prison with members of Mizizi, a bible study/life class that I was taking. The class required the students to take part in a social justice activity as part of a lesson on how to share God’s heart by sharing with the less fortunate. We were to help the inmates of Kamiti Medium Security Prison by painting their social hall, interacting and sharing the love of Christ with them.
Prior to the activity, a number of guidelines had been given to us by our facilitators:
1. Do not negotiate with the inmates.
2. Do not make any promises to the inmates.
3. Do not let the inmates use your phone.
4. Wear comfortable clothing.
5. Ladies, wear loose clothing.
I found some of these a tad strange. They sounded a lot like the ‘Do not feed the animals’ rules in zoos. Anyhow I did understand that all these rules were given to us for a reason.
That morning I selected what I considered my loosest pair of old jeans, a pair of rubber shoes, an old t-shirt and pulled my hair back into a simple pony tail. I planned to be as inconspicuous as possible. I met the rest of my group in town and together, we waited for the guys driving us there. Half an hour later, we were on our way to Kamiti.
What did I expect from this visit? Was I going to make a new inmate friend? I had never interacted with an inmate prior to this. Inmate sounds like something your friend would say if you had a great plan for the weekend. “I’m in mate!” Or like a very close buddy. “Yeah, we’re pretty close. He’s one of my inmates.” These were some of my thoughts concerning our visit to the prison.
In between these thoughts, I chastised myself for regarding inmates as a breed of rare species preserved behind bars in a far away location to avoid extinction. I wondered if I was making too much of a big deal out of the visit. These were just ordinary people who made mistakes, took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, or acted out of blind or selfish ambition, maybe greed, right? We’re all guilty of these sins. We’re just lucky to get second, third and fourth chances. Nothing to be scared of. No need to regard them with this mixture of fear and amazement. Some were probably even innocent victims of injustice.
Then my thoughts took another turn. Wait a minute! Some of these individuals had murdered. Some had committed robbery with a lot of violence. Some had raped, pillaged and vandalized. I knew of people who had died painful deaths in the cruel hands of their ilk. Maybe the guy who pointed a gun at my dad was in there. Someone there had stolen my friend’s wallet that contained a significant amount of money and documents of identification that are not easy to come by in this country. Someone there had caused a great deal of mental anguish to someone dear to me. Fear, terror and disgust were not such wrong responses after all. Why was I even headed there? Oh right, there was the forgiveness and second chances thing. Also, learning to share God’s heart and the role I play in social justice. And oh, paint.
I know, I know. I’m a conflicted individual. We were at the prison’s gate in an hour or so. The huge gates opened to a small prison community with a school, shops, make-shift stands with women selling and fruits and vegetables, and the wardens’ houses. All the buildings were old, most dilapidated. “Deplorable!” one of the ladies from our group exclaimed at the terrible condition of the wardens’ tiny houses. Life in the seemingly alienated community went on undisturbed. Most seemed almost oblivious of our presence there. We drove further inside. The prison was located a kilometer or more from the main gate.
P.s. The title Let’s go to prison was inspired by a movie with the same title that I watched and immensely enjoyed a few years ago. Watch it and let me know if you liked it as much as I did 🙂 Here’s the trailer.