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KAMITI MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON

The infamous Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, Kenya is arguably the worst prison in the entire world. Kenyans have long witnessed inmates coming out of Kamiti either seriously ill or dead. Human Rights groups have also raised concerns about the inhumane conditions of the prison but nothing ever seems to change. Kamiti was used by the the colonial administration as a deterrent to dissent and sadly enough, the Prison has continued to be used in the same way in Independent Kenya. During the days of single party rule in Kenya, many politicians critical of the ruling party KANU were very scared of the prospects of being sent to Kamiti, that they simply stayed quiet. Examples of some Kenyan leaders who had a stint at Kamiti include the legendary Mau Mau freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, who was later executed there, Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga, Koigi wa Wamwere, just to mention but a few. The most horrific account of the prison however came from former Nakuru District Commissioner Jonah Anguka, in his book Absolute Power which he published to explain the attempts by senior officials in President Moi's administration to frame him for the murder of former Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Robert Ouko.

In some excerpts from his book published by The Daily Nation newspaper, Anguka wrote about Kamiti, his home for some 1000 days:-
It is by sheer chance that an inmate leaves Kamiti Maximum prison intact. Either he will conrtact contagious diseases owing to the abominable conditions or leave the facility as a corpse. The authorities' indifference to basic human needs, even the simple right to life, is prevalent. It is nearly impossible for an ailing inmate to be taken to a hospital for medical care usually because there are no warders or lorries. In the process, the prison ers' lives deteriorate fatally. After a prisoner dies, there is a whole prison lorry to take the corpse to the mortuary, of course, under a warder escort!

The cooking and eating utensils are hardly washed due to persistent water shortages and lack of detergents. Consequently there are epidemics of diseases like tuberculosis.Aids is also ravaging inmates at Kamiti. The needles used to inject sick prisoners are disposable but because of shortages, they are "sterilised" over and over again, leaving them twisted, blunt and lethal. Kariuki, a fellow remand prisoner, had a heart disease. One Tuesday, his condition deteriorated and the authorities were informed. They took no action. In the night, his condition worsened. For hours, his cellmates pleaded with warders for help, but in vain; they did not even as much as open the cell. Kariuki died as his cellmates watched helplessly. His corpse remained in the cell, among fellow inmates for the remainder of the night.

Peter, a condemned prisoner, became ill and was admitted to the prison's sick bay. One night Peter's condition worsened. He called for help. Fellow prisoners/patients joined him in called for assistance, but all in vain. The authorities refused to send medical personnel. A warder replied to Peter's cries mockingly in Kiswahili, "Uliletwa hapa kuuwawa ama kutibiwa? Usinisubue!" (Were you brought here to be killed or to be treated? Don't disturb us!) Groaning in pain and crying out for help, Peter fell off the bed and died, his hands chained and hanging on the bed. Homosexuality is widely practised at Kamiti. It is an open secret which the authorities promote by not taking any action to prevent it. The rich and strong inmates buy extra food and/or cigarettes. They use these to lure poor, starved, young and weak prisoners into unnatural sex.

In certain instances, senior sergeants in charge of accommodation arrange, at a fee, to transfer a prisoner to a particular cell for sex. The inmates who arrange and pay for the transfer become the mende i.e the husband while the transferred prisoner is the mtoto, the wife. The mende provides for all the needs of the mtoto , who remains a sexual tool. George, a young boy in his late teens, was serving an eight-year jail term for armed robbery. One Saturday some inmates invited him to an evening meal of porridge and beans. Owing to starvation, the temptation was too great. He accepted. Little did he know that the meal was drugged. he ate and became intoxicated. In the night, he was repeatedly gang-sodomised. He bled profusely, until he was unconscious. At Kamiti, a warder is always right even when he tramples on a prisoner, who has no right. One Saturday afternoon, a condemned prisoner, Onkoba, was suffering from pneumonia.He insisted on staying in the sun a little longer than the warder was willing to allow. The warder blew the whistle and the alarm went off. Warders armed themselves with rungus, machetes, and spears and rushed to Condemn `G', where Onkoba was heartlessly beaten, cut all over the body and left for dead.

One afternoon at the law court prison cells, a millionaire who had been charged in the multi-billion Godernburg scam was allowed by the prison court officer to be visited by friends and relatives for lunch. Later my lawyer came was prevented from consulting with me. The best the court officer was prepared to allow was that I talk with him at the grilled gate in the presence of the public. I refused but the officer did not budge, so I protested and redeclined to go back to the cells. He ordered the warders to force me into the cells, but they refused. Whereas the millionaire was allowed visits to socialise, I was denied a visit by a lawyer to discuss matters related to my trial. I made it clear that I would raise the matter in court the following morning. Later some warders confided in me that they were not willing to force me into the cells because their boss had been bribed by the millionaire while he denied them "a share of the Goldenburg money". Like cigarettes, warders smuggled in newspapers at a fee. Apart from the cost of the paper, I had to pay a warder a "transportation fee", which was much higher than the cost of the paper. Reading it was a hassle - an inmate had to be strategically positioned to minimise the risk of being caught. After reading I would hand the paper back to the warder to take it out. More often than not he resold it to other prisoners. In the meantime, I conveyed the papers' contents to fellow cellmates.

I shared a cell with David Njenga Ngungi, who was charged in connection with a raid on Ndeiya chief's Camp in Kiambu. Njenga was until his arrest a dedicated family employee and family man. One night while asleep, he heard a heavy knock on the door. He was arrested and taken to the local police stateion. His wife, too, was arrested. She left behind her two-week old baby. The previous night some people had allegedly broken into the Ndeiya Chief's camp and stolen guns with which to overthrow the Moi governnment. At the police station, Mrs Njenga was put in a cell together with men. She suffered pain from milk which had collected in her breast and could not be sucked. Njenga was tortured exhaustively. His genitals were pricked with needles. His feet and legs thrashed until they could not carry him anymore. Two weeks later he was brought to court on crutches. With time his skin peeled off. His nails turned dark red and then, one after the other, they fell off his toes and fingers. We agreed to keep the nails as material evidence of police torture. When Njenga's day in court arrived , he narrated his ordeal and produced the nails. The people burst into tears. Even the magistrate was moved. Njenga was acquitted and he eventually sued the state for torture and malicious peosecution. The case is still pending.

Conditions at the prison compels one to use his or her initiative. Most inmates are people of no means. Legal fees are simply out of the reach of many. The need for justice has turned into self-made "legal experts". They study the law and use case studies to conduct mock trials in prison. The remand prisoner appears in the mock trial presided over by fellow inmates. At the end a sentence is passed. Thereafter his colleagues help him to improve his case. In the case of serving inmates, a mock appeal trial is held. The inmate is given time to write and submit his defence. Using the lower court judgment, the submission and any verbal representation by the appellant, the mock appeal court gives their "verdict". The inmate is helped to improve his submission. Nearly all High Court and Court of Appeal judgments are left behind by departing released inmates. These make the backbone of submissions asrecent authorities. Personally I was assisted in writing some submissions. It was satisfying to assist. Besides it helped me to greatly improve my knowledge and understanding of the law. The concern and commitment in writing these appeals is so thorough and detailed that when the appellants appear before the appeal judges, nearly 90 percent regain their freedom. What was intriguing was that in a number of cases inmates had been represented by practising lawyers at the initial trials before magistrates. But left on his own, the legally illiterate defendant, representing himself before judges, won and succeeded.

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