The high walls manned by armed wardens and furious bloody hounds, the incessant orders, unending duties, food queues, reversed systems, fight outbreaks, ugly syndicates, bribes, prison work and the spiteful guards are a story of the past. The feeling of finally completing the ten-year, twenty-year or even one month incarceration in an African prison is overwhelming. Men wail loudly, women faint while juveniles dance to the release news. The prison activities come to a standstill when a long-term convict is finally released or gets a presidential pardon. A niche is left void and a fight to fill it ensures. The unsaid king has left, the cigarette or bhang supplier has left, a boyfriend or girlfriend has left, the only hope of speaking to loved ones has departed is always the story each time the heavy iron gates open.
The first thing that occurs is the struggle for power. There are two fighting parties in a national correction facility: The collaborators, who are hated by the majority since they are snitch bitches, always in the warden’s office telling on escape plans and vindicating fellow inmates for minute mistakes. They receive rewards in all forms: niceties and bread scrambles from the high table, occasional call home, exemptions from hard labour, and status but consequently they get soiled beds, night ambushes, black eyes and lack of companionship. There is the crew. The big guns,the Bad Boys or Bad Bitches. They are six foot and over, well built and crude. They don’t run the system, they own it. They know when to sneak in booze, how to get little cash whilst in the prisons, they are equally feared by other inmates as by the administration. They know when a fresh cohort of inmates is arriving and share among themselves the sweet boys or girls. T-bag in Prison Break. I so love the character. Stop with the eyes.
The squad is famed for maintaining order within. If they are at peace, the warden can sleep without the fear of breakouts or internal wrangles. If the squad is dissatisfied, all kind of craze happens, if it is allowed to grow too vocal, there is a problem. A leader is only allowed for a while then released in order to alter the system.
That’s a slight glimpse of Maximum Prisons. So our released citizen awaits a jubilant welcome at the prison gates. He picks up his belt, shoes, watch, wallet and some few shillings if they are lucky enough. He tries to fit in but he’s a size too big and so he leaves squeezed up and looking like a traveler from a decade or two ago. He waves happily at the wardens as they open the gates. They looked at him with a grin,” You will be back kid.”
Outside he looks forward to meet a family gathered there to receive him. Didn’t his wife believe him when he cried that he was innocent? Last time she visited, didn’t he tell her that he was due out in a couple of years? “Maybe she forgot,” he would encourage himself. The man will look at the skies and soaring crows, kiss the soil and fill his lungs with the smell of freedom. Free at last. He would say a quick prayer and throw his bag with few tools he earned from prison industry on his back. The last time he was free, there was a head full of hair, a hope of a better tomorrow and strength in his gaze. Now he was forty three, what was left of his hair was graying but the hope of a good life sufficed or rather rekindled. His wife had two kids he could remember, she needed a third one, he thought as a twitch developed in his pants. The black prison gates were now behind him so were the troubles and friends he made, he focused ahead to a new life. He would continue from where he left but at a pace. He made it to the road as a bus load of new inmates made it for the dull walls; he felt like waving at them but focused ahead.
He caught a bus to what used to be home encouraged by the mere thought a party was underway at home. In the long ride home he sat quietly, looked through the window, enjoyed the view and thought about what ex-inmates think about. Each time the bus came to a small town, it would stop and some passengers would alight for some to board, loads of farm produce were thrown to the carrier on bus on their way to the market. He invested in this time by thinking about where he would start. After the homecoming, he would hold a serious talk with his family about how they will make up for the time lost. The family will exploit his newly acquired skill in metal work and soon they would become the story on everyone’s lips. He could even visualize the first million shillings would coming in. He saw his wife welcome him at home after work.
“You are a beast baby. Why did you stay away for so long?” she would kiss him an tug him along by the index finger to a full table. They would be celebrating the first million bob, a first of many. He didn’t want to spoil the moment. He curled over in his seat and lullabies himself to sleep and dream over the remaining distance to home.
The loud banging of metal awakened him and brought a good dream to an end. It was dark and cold in the almost empty bus. The conductor was sweeping the floor and shutting down the windows for the night. He, our released man wiped off frosty glass window with his palm and peeped out to a rainy, dull and muddy shopping center. Majority of the shops were shut down and their timber walls falling off while dim kerosene lamps burned in the few opened shops to expose empty shelves. His hope stooped a whole inch. It was a ghost town where he had dreamed of starting a metal and welding service shop. He picked up his sack bag and walked out wishing someone could say hi or recognize him.
The rain had fallen lightly for a long time making the path was slippery and difficult to trend on. The man saw an opened hotel and his stomach grumbled at the thought of hot creamy tea and buns. He could spare a minute there before heading home.
He ate on, trying to recognize a patron or a staff with minimal success. It’s heartbreaking to have nobody recognize you in your home village. The few ones who get an interest in you stare at you like you are an alien from Mars and even contemplate on stealing your alien bag and search for precious stones you want to sell on earth. Where did my old friends go? Perhaps they grew rich and moved? Or they all died with the famed drought of ’94? Or low bank interest rates quickened their rise to glory? The more questions he had, the less answers he got and the more anxious he got.
That’s always the case. The releases inmates find a deserted home, the spouse lost hope and started another family and even sold the land. This is big a blow for a man to take. The next hurdle is larger than the first. Where to acquire a job? A man will start with a job hunt for the field he has trained in prison.
“Hello Ramgharia, I am looking for a job in mechanics.”
“Nice one my friend. Where did you train?”
“In my stay at Kamiti Maximum, they have the best trainers.”
The red Indian will turn red.(do they flush red too? somebody tell me)
“Hakuna kazi. Tafuta kwingine.” And the doors shut on their faces everywhere they go.
Finally a hope will appear when they get a cleaning job in a car wash or serving food in a kibanda. They work diligently, saving each coin to start a new life. They keep off drugs, women and crime for a while but soon some guy they knew in prison would bump in, they always do.
“Eish boss kwani ni wewe?” The reunion is explosive. They share a lot and each having a tale to tell about life after the bars.
“Man, you have not to kill rats. You will never make it by doing that,” the punch line is always classy and specially crafted, holds truth and it melts the ice.
“But I tried all means to secure a legitimate hustle but the fact I am an ex-prisoner sticks out like a sore thumb,” the now down trodden man will cry.
“Come on bruh. Ditch the dishes come with me and I will make you a fisher of men.”
They leave, sleeves pulled up to the elbow and chins held high. Life becomes sweet, hit a bonnet and get a battery. Fetch few bucks in Girogon. Blind a car for a roof and a lay.
The end result is recidivism, a prophesy of the guards come true. I came across an organization called Released and Restored and checked in to see what they do. They understand life of a released citizen from a critical perspective. The prejudice, hatred, distrust and cruelty we treat newly released inmates. Released inmates? Is that even proper English? Philip Ochieng and Austin Bukenya would kill for that error. Decapitated heads tihihi. Yes they are released inmates because we jail them behind invisible bars of seclusion. If one sweet talked your daughter you will throw tantrums and scream,” Nani? He won’t talk to my daughter.” Mind you that is at the chief’s and it was just a chit chat they had by the road. If the ex-prisoner is seen about a closed shop or home, the next thing we expect is a break in. I used we because I also freak out when an ex-prisoner enters my twenty five yards.
But these people deserve better. Everybody should be ready to lift them up, dust their clothes and show them the way about so as to reduce the cases of recidivism and jail. Figuratively an economist would give a report that quite many millions of tax payers money go to prisons. Here we feed and maintain unexploited man power and talents, all which should be harnessed to add onto the development of this nation.
Before release, there should be training and mentorship such that an inmate develops a mindset of what to expect. Better still, policies should be put in place to help kick start the life of the victim by either offering a job, capital to start a small business and talks to convince them that they are still capable of becoming important members of the society.
Did I do that? Speak sense in a whole paragraph?
haha, I needed this Icebreaker.
Where I stay, water has been scarce for about two weeks. Imagine our landlord has not paid Kanjo or is it NAWASCO for like since the last constitution era. Kanjo, as Nairobians think every government official who we conflict with is kanjo. When electricity blinks twice and the bulb blows you will hear someone shout,”ona kanjo wanatuchezea. Ama its Kidero who has slapped somebody, mpaka stima zikapotea zisikuwe next.” When there are medical delays its kanjo who squandered the funds. With the looming water shortage, I have dropped my bathing frequency from four to two per week. Early Sunday morning because that is a routine with deep roots. Growing up, Sunday was a bathing galore back in Gicagi. Parents took the time to wash the children below eight years. The sun shone and hot boiling water for everyone was poured in iron basins, black on the outside and silver on the inside. The bathing ingredient were few and simple, bar soap, maize cob and kagunia, the slaps and cries were more.
“Hii kidonda ulipata ukifanya nini?” slap.”Uliiweka chumvi?” slap “Apana mami?” slap.”Kwa nini hukuweka na nilikuambiaga…” slap. Slap. Slap. And we cried, were bathed until we shone like a peeled cassava. Then we were left out to dry under the sun as our parents bathed before heading for church. We were naked but not embarrassed furthermore that was the scenario in each home in the neighborhood. The part I loved most about Sunday bathing was the golden opportunity to have my mother’s Lady Gay lotion applied on me. Sema a change from Arimis.
The next day I take bathe is Wednesday. I just don’t know why Wednesday.