Gov. Okoth Obado has just been sent to Industrial Area Prison and Remand Home for at least 24 hrs. I am sure my former boss, who acts as a lay preacher in his Rapogi village SDA church, has never been in that environment before. I have however been an unwilling guest of the state at the facility more than three times. Since I am not anywhere near him to offer some insights, here’s what I’d like him to know.
If he has any connections at the high court in Milimani, he should delay his departure for prison in the green prison truck, the one with wire mesh for windows, through which hungry, dishevilled prisoners peep into the free world, or the more comfortable and newer green bus introduced by Uncle Moody Awori. That way he’ll lessen the pain he’d have of seeing people, some of whom he may know, driving sleek limousines, or walking leisurely, on city streets. It’ll be painful to see buildings he’s sautered into with bodyguards opening doors for him; seeing hotels he’s dined in passby – or so it seems. He’ll feel pain when the prison door is locked and experienced remandees, called ‘Ordinaries’, “peremba” him, or search his pockets for cigarettes, cash, and valuables like condoms. If he wants to smuggle some money into prison, he should make friends with a veteran at the high court cells and give him the cash, with promise of a commission. The veteran will know where to hide it and even if ordered to strip naked, nothing may be found on him. Obado can then guess the safe into which the cash has been deposited for safe keeping.
By delaying his departure, he could have more time with leaders of his Sangwenya gang, family and other sychophants. They’ll sympathise but they won’t help. The sad reality that he’s all alone in this, that he’s helpless in the face of the law, which will sink more when everybody leaves for home and he’s left with distracted policemen and prison warders, some of whom will be hovering around him in the hope of being given some cash to keep him safe. His family and friends will part with some cash, but this will neither help nor reach him.
When he eventually prepares to leave as darkness approaches, after the police sentries have handed him over to prison authorities, Obado will see the glaring differences between the two departments. He’ll quickly notice that on the prison side, the guards are less civil and there are fewer liberties. Unlike on the police side, visitors can’t walk into your cell and chat, bringing with them food, money and kisses. There’s more vetting and more control of how and who gets to see him.
When the time comes for the prisoners to be transported home, they all be ordered out of their cells into the corridor. Everybody else, lawyers, civilians, Sangwenyas, bond brokers and layabouts will be cleared from the corridors, which will suddenly become darker and eerie. Here, all the prisoners will be required to squat in pairs where they’ll be counted. It’s called to “kaba mbili mbili” and Obado, a veteran of NYS, is familiar with this. The wardens shouting instructions expect immediate compliance, irrespective of who one is and whether or not one understands them. However due to corruption, and his status, the warders may allow him the liberty of standing at the end of the rows instead of squatting. Depending on how he behaves with his money, he could also be allowed to walk to the lorry at the tailend of the row.
Once in the lorry or bus, Obado will generally be disorientated. Emerging rrom the usually dark basement cells, he’ll lose his sense of direction and generally not know where he is. In no time however, he’ll hear and feel the lorry come to a stop, then reverse, front, back and reverse before stopping. Then the door will be opened noisily before a warder shouts, “kila mtu inje na mkabe mbili mbili. Enda huko ndani namna hiyo!” Outside will be two rows of armed guards sandwiching the prisoners, none of them talking but watching with steely eyes. With a glance behind the guards, he’ll notice more guards spread out, at the gate, along the fence, next to parked cars, attentive and armed. No escape.
The prisoners will be herded through the watchful eyes of the gurads holding cocked rifles through a wide door and into into a yard. There they’ll be required to undress. To their pants. Depending on the mood of the officer in charge, he may be subjected to “tero” – a though search of body and clothes, including peeping into restricted areas, for “marufuku” or contraband like cash, cigarettes and bhang. From there he’ll be assigned a cell and herded there if he’s lucky. Most often however, once inside the prison walls, the warders leave one to their own means but if found loitering or lost, one will get extra punishment.
Once he finds his cell block – he should pray he goes to one of the newer blocks that have water and more space – he’ll find hardcore remandees, some of them foreigners who may or may not welcome him. But as his offense is murder, he may be remanded in the old colonial block, where he’ll have to wear prison uniform, called Kunguru, marked ‘CAPITAL’ in capital letters on the back. Such remandees are not allowed to interract with other remandees and are detained in the maximum security part of the prison. H. E. Obado will be one of them. He may have his own cell or not but he’ll not have access to a toilet – he’ll have to make do with an old bucket.
By the time the governor gets to the prison, supper will be ready. He may not have regained the appetite he claimed to have lost but but there’ll be ordinary prison things on the menu. Since he’ll not have made arrangements for a special “mururu” (tumbler-shaped mess tin in ehich meals are served) he’ll have to eat barely cooked ugali and lots of algae-coloured water in the name of stew and one sukuma wiki leaf if he’s lucky. Then he’ll go to his temporary cell home for much needed rest. And meditation.
The night will be long. A lot of things will go through his mind. His last meeting with Sharon will flash through his mind. He’ll remember the people who have pushed for his arrest. The money he has stashed in foreign accounts; his opulent home in Rapogi and his new hotels and the beds. His trysts with Sharon…his other girlfriends, Bro Amen, Obala Tinga, Omuga, Kwaga… lot of things. He’ll think of the revenge he’ll met on Raila Odinga and Ochilo Ayacko for making this operation go so wrong. He’ll blame everybody but himself.
Then it’ll be morning and the warden will be back shouting for prisoners to “kaba” before they’re herded for barely cooked, sugarless breakfast of maize porridge and a dawn trip to the high court. He should arrange and be ready to be taken to court early, although his matter will be in the afternoon. There in the high court court cell he’ll be more comfortable and can eat a much needed, nice meal of chicken with chips from Java, his davourite Dasani and sweet bananas as he talks to family, Sangwenyas and his lawyers before he gets another fifteen minutes of fame before Justice Jessie Lessit.
Meanwhile, the hungry, jobless Sangwenya ferried from Migori to attend a case most hardly comprehend will be roaming city streets, hungry and looking for telephone contacts of friends and relatives they haven’t seen or spoken with for ages.
Such is life.
Prison makes us equal.
All lives matter.