The 8 Days that Gave Me a Glimpse of Life Behind Bars

Would you like to know how I got involved in working in prison? Read on and find out how it all started.

The 8 Days that Gave Me a Glimpse of Life Behind Bars
Spending 8 days under police custody paved way for my work with exceptional young men in juvenile prison

In 2005, I got arrested and spent 8 days under police custody in two different police stations. What I experienced within those 8 days is nothing compared to a life in Kenyan prisons. However, it gave me a glimpse of what some of our exceptional young men experience in prison.

That morning, I walked to Makongeni Police Station to deliver tea, bread and ripe bananas to a friend who had been arrested. When I reached the police station, I asked to see my friend.

“We’re going to arrest you so we can conduct investigations,” the police officer at the OB Desk informed me.

“What have I done wrong?” I asked, adding that I was bringing breakfast for my friend. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” I added.

“We’re going to hold you for questioning and investigations,” the police officer continued.

“How long is that going to take?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I know you need to drink the tea and eat the bread and bananas you have brought your friend!”

I had just taken a heavy breakfast and knew it was going to get me through the whole day. This being so, I was enraged. I decided to throw the thermos flask, cup, bread and bananas in a dustbin at the police station.

I was to later learn I had committed a big mistake.

But the again, I doubt whether they would have allowed me to keep the thermos, bread and bananas till lunch time.

The 8 days that gave me a glimpse of life behind bars

inside out program
Getting involved with exceptional young men in prison has empowered me to take on challenges that I had not imagined possible

Back then, I was working as a volunteer at Kumekucha Self Help Office, located off Jogoo Road in Eastlands. My role was to teach the boys and girls who used Kumekucha as a resource centre how to write composition.

Unknown to me, those 8 days were going to be costly. First, it alienated me from the community that had entrusted me with their sons and daughters. Secondly, I lost the little income I was earning from the tuition as well.

I didn’t know how hurting it was going to be losing the children I had been teaching. I was enjoying teaching wonderful school children from Mbotela, Maringo, Makongeni and Bahati estates. These children were becoming part and parcel of my life. But thanks to getting arrested, I lost everything.

After dumping the breakfast I had brought my friend, I was led back to the OB Desk. My eyeballs enlarged in shock when I read the charges I was being charged with. Because I was ignorant about my rights, I swallowed my anger, coiled in fear and did as I was told.

“Take off your shoe laces, belt and one shoe,” one of the police officers at the OB Desk barked. “Remove money from your pockets and record it here in the OB.”

I felt helpless and lost.

The moment the metal door closed behind me, young men ganged up on me. One searched inside my jeans pockets. Another one asked what I had been arrested for. A third one laid his rough hands on my chest and pushed me to the wall. Before I could open my mouth to protest, Mustapha came to my rescue.

My first day under police custody

Restorative justice

“What’s your name?” Mustapha asked.

“James,” I replied, relief coursing throughout my body.

“You seem like a nice guy that is different from us,” he said. “You look like someone who grew up with a responsible dad. We could all do with your advice on how we can become responsible men like you.”

“Okay, I understand,” I replied without really understanding what he meant.

I looked forward to finding out what Mustapha meant.

Before 12 noon we had already been counted more than five times. Lunch was made up of burnt ugali and cabbages. A few minutes after lunch, a group of evangelists paid us a visit. They stood outside the cell with a set of thick metal bars between us.

Their sermon was based on the Samaritan Woman by the Well. The group tried to connect our being behind bars with the experience of the Samaritan woman. And much as they likened her salvation to the freedom that each of us were going to experience – soon – everything sounded like blah blah to me.

All I wanted was someone to ask whether my family knew where I was. I needed to hear someone say they were going to contact mom. Instead, they tried to relate my experience with a Samaritan woman!

Watch out for Part 2

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The 8 Days that Gave Me a Glimpse of Life Behind Bars
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