The massive gates of the old colonial prison rattled noisily behind me as the two uniformed warders shut freedom away from me. I was led to my new abode where I was to spend three agonizing days, days I prayed never to witness again. The day was a Friday, the much anticipated last day before the weekend. The day the judge had sent me to cool off my heels and spend the weekend inside the four walls of a prison yard for disturbing the peace and intent to injure. The old judge, not giving a damn about the weekend, angrily ordered that I remain in custody. So, this is it, I thought as I was cut off from my family, friends and foes till Monday when I might be granted my liberty once again, if my victim survives.

My journey into the tormenting world of prison actually began two days prior when anger at the very poor attributes of humans pushed me into a fight with my unfriendly neighbor. He had actually started the fight but anger covered my patience and pushed me foolishly to smash a bottle over his head. This had caused him serious injury that required six stitches and some days in hospital where he was still laying in critical condition. It was a cheap argument we both could have resolved amicably. But instead, we had both stubbornly opened a passage for the devil to take over our logic and pushed us to dispute and fight over the right of space; it was a cheap vanity thing that took over our senses of reasoning.

Well, it was too late, I thought as I was led into my new world at the Awaiting Trial section of the old prison. The first thing I noticed on stepping into the stench filled room were twenty-one pairs of eyes of other inmates who stared suspiciously at me as the uniformed guards locked the door and finally curtained off from freedom and peace.


I stared sullenly at the round shape of a bright shining moon from the iron-barred window inside the crowded cell and listened to the snoring of tired bodies lying next to me. I thought of my old mattress at home and realized how marvellous it was compared to the bare floor I now found myself. One of the most important things I realized on my first night inside the prison was the privacy I had always enjoyed every night inside my little room. What I won’t give to be free and lying on my mattress inside my room even with a caveat not to step outside throughout the day or week? At least it was still better than this secluded cage where the attempt to shut my eyes and sleep peacefully was as impossible as trying to fly like a bird.

I wished I could use the bathroom freely. But the freedom to do so here was strict and only by permission. My experience inside this dingy room was something I don’t wish for my enemies. I was pressed and wanted to use the toilet but a loud voice from one of the inmates stopped me. “Cool down there, recruit, see the officer in charge for permission,’’ he said, addressing me with the moniker they called every new inmate. I noticed a broad shouldered guy by the toilet door and stepped up to him, “Permission to use the toilet, OC,’’ I requested obediently and then waited with discomfort for my turn after he granted me the go ahead, after accepting my turn to keep the toilet clean as the new inmate pending the arrival of another ‘recruit’.

I had never done a more horrifying chore like the one I did that night. The stench from the dark unlit urine flooded room was enough to send any sane mind into insanity and deflate his or her pride and ego. I threw up twice and held my nose throughout the twenty-minute exercise that seemed to have lasted two hours. And then I was finally allowed to squeeze my tired frame and disoriented mind among other sleeping inmates who seemed to have accustomed their body and mind to the hard concrete floor, including the constant tormenting sounds of colonies of mosquitoes. I tried everything humanly possible to fight off the small tiny creatures all-night before I unconsciously succumbed to sleep.


My experience of the remaining two days inside my caged world remains up to this moment the most terrifying days of my life. I found it hard to believe that a place like this existed in my country. Although my perception of prison prior to this was no luxury house, it wasn’t anything as hellish as this. To me, it was a house straight out of a horror movie. How best could I describe a place where hundreds of able-bodied men are locked up day and night inside a tiny room, where hunger and depression slowly eat away their creative minds and aspirations? Or what should I call a world where innocent beings are crammed like sardines with hardened criminals and left to break down permanently or waste away awaiting a long overdue court judgment? Their freedom is cut off and their lives in the hands of other fellow human beings who decide their fate. They are like sheep restricted or set free for pasturing at their leisure.


After my first night, the rattling of our cell door woke me up. I jolted abruptly from my uncomfortable dreamless sleep and then stared frighteningly at the bulky shape of the morning warder as his voice bummed loudly to everyone in the crammed cell to wake up to another dehumanizing day. We marched out of our cells and then orderly lined up outside to be counted like sheep in the abattoir waiting for the butcher’s long knife. The fat unsmiling warder assisted by two unfriendly colleagues took note of our numbers and after assuring themselves that none among us had thought it stupid to escape, ordered us back into the cell and cut us off once again from freedom and fresh air.

I sat thoughtfully in my corner, dejected and restricted. I felt trapped like a bird in a cage. I wished the prison authority could be generous and give me an option to set me free from the grimy room. I would have done anything to have been left outside to soak my nose and body in the free fresh air outside. I would have been glad to sweep the whole prison yard, fill up all the drums of water or wash all the horrifying toilets just to be left outside to enjoy this gift of nature that morning. In fact, I would have joyfully and shamelessly agreed to roam the whole prison yard naked and even to dance across the big wall of the massive compound amidst the curious eyes of other prisoners, warders or visitors just to remain away from that lice infested prison cell where numerous diseases were roaming freely, scouting for the next victim. I would have gladly sacrificed my food ration of the day just to be left outside to stare freely at the rising sun and feel that sweet morning breeze as it blew comfortably across my face. Away from free conscious and unconscious farting and body stench and snoring. I was ready to present my buttocks, gladly to be whipped a thousand times, just to be free from that airless room, faraway from unwashed bodies, demoralized and abandoned by their fellow countrymen and women in authority.


I spent the last night of my three horrible days awake all night, praying, waiting hopefully that the fat warder would come and wake us up with his big baton rattling loudly against the iron door as usual. Today was my D-Day, a day that would determine my fate of either to remain a caged human being in these dehumanizing four walls or a free man with freedom written boldly all over my face and frame embedded with all the unquantifiable features that make up a free man. A visiting relative yesterday came with the news that my victim had survived my attack and was feeling much better. My fate now lies in the hands of the judge whom I pray would have leniency and grant me bail to set me into that unquantifiable ticket to freedom.

I listened quietly as my other fellow inmates snored in their sleep. I wondered if any of them had the privilege to visit the dreamland, one natural dose that occurs once in a while in this ghastly place. I noticed that few among them were also already awake and overheard some of them praying. I wondered who among them hoped to taste the charm of freedom that day like me. I knew we all lived by hope and that many of them have lost in this undignified environment. The sound of moving vehicles and their loud horns as they speed past our walled world spurred up my determination to leave the place and go back home a reformed freeman. I promised myself never to fight anybody again. I resolved to ensure that I give my other chin to any of my adversaries who might be tempted to taste my patience again. After all, that was the way the scriptures taught us to do in circumstances that had brought me to this place. I reminded myself. I sighted the big frame of the fat warder as he marched forcefully towards our cell with his baton held boldly. I watched him hopefully as he gave out his first loud bang of the morning.

The loud bang caught the other tired malnourished sleeping bodies unaware and rattled their ears awake to another degrading day. “Wake up lazy bones, come out, you are all dead without freedom,’’ he shouted as usual then rattled his baton continuously across the cells.











Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash