This Insights from Inmates blog is comprised of contributions collated from prisoners in the capital city, Kampala. Luzira Prison is a maximum security prison on the eastern outskirts of the city. Prisoners are invited to share anything they like, whether a story, a poem, a word of encouragement, or even some drawings or other artwork. We regularly produce printed publications which are then displayed in the prisons we work in. In this edition we feature contributions from “Samakula Frank” and “Syson K” – we hope you enjoy reading them.
Please note that for prisoners’ own protection, names are changed, and that as per prison policy, anything written in prison must be vetted by prison staff before leaving prison.
Samakula Frank (Luzira Upper Prison) – That Day
When I was still outside, when I still had the right to the fresh breeze of the free world, I remember once an anti-government sect that complained about the number of public holidays that we in Uganda boast of. “Fools” – that is all I could exclaim – for I wondered if they knew how much pleasure they could cost me; as if any changes could happen anyway.
Yet now, how I hate holidays! See, in Upper Prison we are entitled to three days of visits per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Be sure that if it is a public holiday it is not a visiting day. And that is more than enough reason to irk me.
In a population of about 3,000 prisoners – occupying a setting meant for 600, it is not easy to locate the person you require. So on visiting days (V.D.’s) while all are eager, ears wiped of wax, for their names to be called (those few expecting to be visited) the “radios” call us. Yes, “radios” is what these guys adept at shouting are called. He shouts the name of an inmate repeatedly around Boma, our castle (courtyard). The inmate then speeds to the visiting dock. There, alas, one can collect a keg of tears as a thick glass in wire mesh secludes us from our visitors.
That day I had a couple of friends come to check on me. You know, I tend to get them to smile rather than wearing such grieving faces. Ironically, it was me who cried that time though. I tried to obscure the tears when one asked: “what really happened?”
Remembering everything is one hell of a miserable moment. How one merry day ended in a prelude to prison is something that racks my brain. Bearing in mind how journalists prattled on slanderously about me, their question dismantled me. I, however, regained myself and at last, I told them.
I was drunk – so was he. It was late in the night, 3 o’clock to be precise. He attacked me over a game of pool we had played. I sought to rescue myself from him, as I ought to, and I managed. Unfortunately, he lost his breath.
I closed my eyes as the girls were in tears, opening them again, mine too were drenched.
Syson K (Luzira Women’s Prison) – My Roadmap to Better Leadership Skills from Prison
Having been sentenced to 20 years in jail as a result of domestic violence which progressed into an assault charge, I thought that I was daydreaming. Being the first lady to be given that sentence, I didn’t think it possible, thus I vowed to fight tooth and nail to appeal the sentence.
With my background of attending a boarding school for over ten years, I approached prison life with a calm and submissive character, which paved a smooth path for me compared to some inmates who had not previously stayed in a community of over 100 people.
I can never forget the 20th of May 2003, when I entered Luzira Women’s Prison at around 5pm. On arrival at the gate, I found a few inmates and I still cannot tell whether it was because of my stature or appearance, but somehow one whispered to the other “she is going to be Katikiro” (a ward leader). Certainly, that was beyond my imagination as I had lodged my appeal and was sure that my days in prison were numbered.
In the beginning, life was not a bed of roses in prison as the “balculus” (prison warders also call them Bamukulu or Mukulu for short) were on their toes. I was not allowed to move freely as they had never received an inmate with such a long sentence. But with time I approached one of the administrators and expressed my discomfort with the way I was being treated. The administrator was very helpful and eventually, I was accorded my due freedom.
Before long, I was appointed as a ward leader and was even taken to a workshop as my “work party”. We are usually allocated “work parties” according to our abilities, sentence or vulnerabilities. Parties include main shamba (vegetable garden), workshops, light duty, kitchen etc. After close to two years, I was trained as an assistant counsellor and this boosted my leadership skills a lot.
Soon the overall Katikiro completed her sentence and there had to be elections for the new Katikiro. I did not have any interest but to my dismay, my name was nominated. Elections are carried out democratically. There were five nominated candidates and we had to stand for inmates to line up behind us. Oh my God! I won the election by 95% and this is when I confirmed the scripture that says “all leadership comes from God”.
Leading mature people is the worst task, we have people from all the different corners of Uganda with various cultures, and backgrounds – a good number of them are illiterate. Some are demoralised and frustrated, others are family people but when I knelt down and asked God to guide me through this leadership, he really did it for me. Sometimes I ask myself whether it is me coordinating, organising, planning and controlling all these, close to 350 inmates – surely God is on my side.
Leadership in prison has made me a better administrator and reformed person. I have learnt to control and regulate anger, deal with different challenges, not be judgemental, counsel the sick and stressed, and those who are vulnerable.
Luck was on my side when education was introduced in Luzira Women’s Prison. I have embarked on serious education and am hoping to join university when I leave prison and earn a degree in Guiding and Counselling. I am also planning to write a book about how to deal with challenges as a leader.