Let’s go to prison – Part 3

It is with great shame (well, not really. Maybe just a moderate amount of shame :D) that I present the third and final instalment of the ‘Let’s go to prison’ series that I did at the end of last year. Ideally, this should have been posted here shortly after the first two but due to many, honestly, avoidable circumstances that prevailed upon me, it wasn’t. Should you wish to refresh your memory, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Better late than never, right? Enjoy.

Within no time, I was busy sandpapering the walls with a large group that included prisoners and wardens, after which we commenced painting. I really enjoyed painting. Peter Marangi would have wept with pride had he seen me.

I have to admit that all this time I was hoping for a photo opportunity with an inmate. Or some sort of interaction where I’d casually ask, “So, what are you in for?” Then when he responded with whatever crime he was in for, I’d nod nonchalantly and say, “Cool, cool.” I know, I know. Pretty lame. 😀 I did, however, get both of my wishes a few hours later when someone mentioned how hungry they were. We all must’ve been. We had been working for some time, in the hot sun, sandpapering the outer walls of the hall. *Morris, one of the inmates, happened to be standing nearby and we jokingly asked him what they had prepared for us for lunch. “Msije mkadanganyika. Chakula cha huku hamwezani nacho. (Don’t be fooled. You cannot handle the food here),” he said, loosely referring to the warden’s earlier ‘buffet’ statement. At this point we all got curious about their meals. It was the usual ugali and sukumawiki (kales) with a few pieces of meat, among other meals like githeri. I wondered how bad the food actually was.  Soon enough the moment I’d been waiting for came. I asked what he was in for.

*Morris is from Tanzania. He is in for drug trafficking. He was arrested in Kenya en route from Brazil, for heroin possession. He explained to us how theywould swallow 13 gram sachets of heroin, to later pass them out in their stool before selling them. “Eeeeeww!!” Those were my thoughts on that. *Morris is serving a nine year sentence. He’s already done eight years in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, and currently has a year to go in the medium security prison. He gets out in December 2012.

He told us that he had every intention of going back into the drug business. By this time, a small group had formed around him to hear his story. He went on seemingly oblivious of this. He was not at all willing to get back into employment, he explained, a tinge of arrogance in his voice. We were all saddened by this. We tried to convince him that there were other vocations he could pursue and that he didn’t have to go back to a life of crime. Someone told him about Jesus. I could tell that he regarded us a bunch of silly youngsters who knew nothing about life. He intends to go international. Maybe head to China, where he said that some laws are lax or something to that effect. At this point I had completely drifted off and was busy trying to get a photo next to him without seeming too obvious.

Trying not to seem too obvious...

Seeing this, everyone suddenly wanted a photo with him. Copy cats! :p He didn’t seem to mind so we clicked away. I was a bit embarrassed by our behaviour but hey, how many chances do you get a photo opportunity with an inmate? There I go again.

A short while later we were done painting and it was time to kick back and be entertained by the inmates and some of the wardens, who were all rather talented. I was impressed, especially by the acrobats and dancers.

Unfortunately, I could not stay till the very end as I had planned to attend #WamathaiOct. As I left, accompanied by a few members of our group, one of whom was dropping me at the matatu stage (it is quite a distance away from the prison), I noticed at the far end of the prison compound where the cells were located, a few inmates who were locked up trying their best to catch a glimpse of the on-going performances their comrades were enjoying. The warden escorting us out told us that they were mentally disturbed and usually not allowed to mix with the rest of the inmates. I felt sad for them.

The elderly Asian inmate I had noticed earlier on walked past us. I asked the warden what he was in for. Multiple bank robberies. This was his third time here. “A good number of the inmates are repeat offenders and keep coming back for the same crimes,” the warden informed us. So much for rehabilitation.

I was free to leave. I could go wherever I pleased. I had freedom of movement! Do we take this freedom for granted? I thought about all this as I left. I could not imagine how great that first step of freedom felt for an inmate who had served a five or 10-year (or longer) sentence. The air must seem fresher; the birds must sing louder; the grass has to be greener for them. Freedom tastes good! I suppose.

“Come again.” I was told severally as I made my way out. I smiled and nodded while thanking the wardens for their hospitality. I’m not sure I’d like to go back.