By Prudence Minayo
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “prison?” For most people, it means deprivation of freedom and rightly so. Prisons in most parts of the world are overcrowded and are known for inhumane treatment the inmates are subjected to.
The lack of freedom and some of the horror stories about prison are enough to make a lot of people fear going to prison.
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According to prisonstudies.org, Kenya has a prison population of 42 596 (September 2020), which is 15000 more than the official prison system capacity. Kamiti Maximum Prison is considered the most secure prison and hosts some of the most notorious criminals.
Originally named Kamiti Downs, Kamiti Maximum Prison is located in Kiambu sits on 1,200 acres of land. The prison has held various political prisoners during the late former president Moi’s regime
Those who opposed or spoke against the government were sometimes arrested and sent to Kamiti Maximum Prison. The most popular political prisoners at the time, include: famous writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Koigi Wa Wamwere and ODM party leader Raila Odinga
In the past, capital offenders were executed at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Back then, those on a death row were hanged in this prison. In 1957, the famous Mau Mau freedom fighter and leader Dedan Kimathi was hanged by the British Colonial Administration.
In an article by The Standard 3 years ago, it was revealed most prisoners dreaded the hang day. The warders would ensure everything was in order before handing over to the hangman. The people were not allowed to see the hangman and would, therefore, turn to their backs until he had passed. The hangman would make sure everything needed for the conviction was ready, such as, the noose, frame and gallows. The inmate would be prayed for by a priest and locked in a private cell 24 hours before being hanged.
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He would then be led to the gallows where the hangman placed the noose on the neck and pulled the lever that pulled the trapdoor open. Once the prisoner died, the hangman would lower the lifeless body and leave. The prison authorities would then see to the burial.
Horrible conditions for prisoners
Most if not all prisons in Kenya offer prisoners a very hard life. Not only do the inmates follow a rigorous schedule but they are also overcrowded and some are even murdered within the prison walls.
Kamiti was meant to house 1,400 prisoners but instead it houses more than triple this number. This means that the level of congestion is dire..
In an article published by The Star, a former inmate revealed how congested the place is.
“Those who wish to take a shower can. Toiletries and buckets are few and they are usually shared.”
It was very disheartening to strip naked, take a shower with men the age of my grandchildren. Worse is the congestion, so the press of naked bodies in the bathroom was very disturbing,” said Ismael as was quoted by The Star.
Someone once said you are just as likely to die in the hands of the prison warders as you are in the hands of inmates. (Source: Kenyans.Co.Ke)
On 17th November 2008, a search for a mobile phone was carried out in G block. The warders were caught on camera mercilessly beating the prisoners in a video handed over to the Kenya National Commission on human rights. The video was also aired on national television.
An ex-convict Eddy Kuria recounted his stay in kamiti in an article published kiworld.org:
Survival in prison was based on money and if you didn’t have any Shillings then you would suffer. I learnt you can die very fast in prison – no medical care, no toilets, inmates used to die like flies. When it rained, prisoners would trap drainage water to take a bath. The cells were very congested, with 15 prisoners squeezed into 10 by 10 feet rooms. Sodomy was frequent and the spread of diseases was high. The scarcity of food meant that those with food could take advantage and sodomize others. Some prison warder’s supervised inmates doing male to male ‘wedding’. Prison is hell.
The condemned ‘G’ Block is notorious and has been singled out for its hellish lifestyle.
Hard work without pay
It is true that those who wish to reform can work hard in prison and learn a number of skills while in prison. These skills would be very beneficial once they get out. Unfortunately, those who work in prison get paid a pittance, which means one has to save a lot if they want a modest amount of money once they get out. In an article by Wikipedia, it is revealed that:
“The inmates working in the “industry section are paid only 10 cents (Kenyan Shillings per day, as per the outdated 1940s legislation which rules the organization.”
With the place being overcrowded, it is no surprise that it is at times difficult to keep it clean. Most inmates haul buckets of water per day but it is still not enough. In 2009, it was reported that a number of prisoners had died of cholera.
Cases of sexual favours exchanged by prisoners, either by choice or force are rife in Kenyan prisons. While prisoners await to be handed over their rooms, there are those who bid for them. Those in charge of allocation are bribed. The highest bidder gets to take the prisoner he wants, and of course they have a preference for young men who are first timers in prison. After this, a prisoner will be sent to the ‘husband’s cell’ (who is the highest bidder). The said husband will share everything with the prisoner in exchange for sexual favors (Source: The Star)
A lot of times, it has been said money rules the world and this seems to be the case even in prison. A KTN investigative journalist revealed that those who have money can live like kings in prison. They are assigned amazing rooms with most of the modern conveniences but those without money live in congested cells.
Kamiti Maximum Prison has the lowest number of escapes. Once an inmate gets in, they say goodbye to freedom until they are released. However, in 2015, 3 inmates managed to escape; Joseph Kinyanjui, John Kamau Gathoni and Isaac Karanja Mwangi. The three escaped by cutting through the metal grill at 2am on a Saturday night. They were never found.
However, escaping from this prison is not easy.
Most who have come out of Kamiti would never want to go back. They have described it as the worst place with even two of Kamiti ex-prisoners gracing Dr King’ori’s show explaining how they would never wish to go back.
One notable thing is also the fact that hardcore criminals are remanded alongside those with petty offences. With all this happening, do you think there is a need for prison reforms? Especially, beginning with the most popular prison ‘Kamiti Maximum Prison.’
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