Kirikiri is not for human beings. Believe me, I just got out…
In the cell, there are levels; there are eight bunk beds and these are allocated according to your level in the cell. The highest level is the Cell Marshall; he gets a bed, his assistant gets a bed, the adviser, the IG backline, the IG Corridor, the Marshall backline…all of these are privileged positions; their beds are usually the top bunks. All of these are also dependent on the amount of money they paid and it ranges from N10,500, to N7,000 downwards. These will guarantee you a bed; space on the mat on the floor.
Then there are those who pay less, they get a spot on the mat, which is shared by about 18 people.
After these set are those in ‘jankara,’ where over 30 people are packed like sardines, you can’t turn, you can hardly breathe and you must all pack in for the night, no exception because there is always a head count. All in the small cell meant just for 12 people.
There are of course four corner windows but no fan, so it isn’t much of a surprise that some inmates simply die in their sleep. You know how extreme the weather has been lately, imagine that with the horde of men packed in a cell from 8pm to 4.30am.
One other thing that can get you a spot on the mat is if you bring ‘10 Bimbos.’ Bimbo is that detergent in sachet. It is a highly valued commodity in prison and I don’t know why it is preferred over other detergents. They just say, ‘Go and bring 10 Bimbos, or bring 15 Bimbos,’ and you become privileged.
We the new comers or alejos are never let out of the cell in the first three months; maybe because we are high risk. So, we don’t get to breath fresh air outside the cell. Which is why our voices get scraggy from the damp, the hot moisture in the cell. Our skin breaks out in all forms of diseases. Madam, you don’t know what freedom is until it is taken from you. You never appreciate inhaling clean air, being able to just step out of your house, even if it is a mud house, to breathe clean air until you are locked up in a cell at Kirikiri.
Yo want to know whether prison is a place of reform? How can? I stayed one year inside and I can tell you for free that 80% of the prisoners there will never be reformed.
Some stay alive only because of their hunger for revenge. They keep swearing to go after the people or families of people who got them imprisoned. For those people that is the only thing keeping them going.
Some are in prison but they still control their gangs outside from inside the prison.
Then there are people who say there is nothing else for them to do but continue their life of crime after prison. I mean what will they do after awaiting trial for more than 8 years and their cases just keep getting adjourned, over and over again.
There are others who are always high on Tramadol and weed. Drugs are smuggled into the cells every day, every blessed day yet authorities say they are unaware, even though we get shakedowns regularly.
Sometimes the weed and tramadol are found and confiscated but many times not.
However, I will not say there is no hope. Churches and mosques are trying to help reform many prisoners. We have one Catholic church, St Augustine and one Pentecostal church, we also have a mosque and all these are run by prisoners. We have a GO in our church, he has been in prison for more than 20 years. I believe he is one of the reformed prisoners, he is very kind and talks to us inmates to change our ways. There is also the Catechist for Catholics, I believe he is also reformed. There are members of the choir, in short, there are positions for people just like in the outside world and these people often enjoy the benefits of gifts brought by churches to us prisoners. When a church brings food for instance, the authorities call the GO or Catechist or Imam to come pick the food and share. And naturally, the beneficiaries would be those who are members of the leadership and loyal members. And if the food remains, the others can benefit.
The prison has schools, for those who wish to take their WAEC, there are teachers that come from outside and even within the prison, I mean among us prisoners. They teach those who want to learn and prepare them.
For those who want to further their education, they are given Open University forms to apply. So, really, the need to get reformed first must come from the individual.
There are other facilities; if you want to farm for instance, they will give you a patch of land to farm. There is a Barbing saloon, shoe making factory and a few other vocational training available for those who are not interested in pursuing academic education. If I was still there, I would have benefitted from the Open University courses. I would love to pursue an Engineering course or something in IT, at least I won’t have to worry about funds for school or forms or anything as such.
Have I learned my lesson? Aunty look at me. This one year has taught me a lesson I will never forget for the rest of my life. I will never even engage in a fight that will attract police not to talk of being in a crime that will take me back to prison.
In that one year, I saw several prisoners released and brought back! They committed another offence and were jailed again. No, I don’t want that for myself.
I want to go to university but I have to find work to help my mother but the problem is who will employ me?
(series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)