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Walk the Talk; Lock the Doc 2

Updated: Aug 21, 2020



Evelyn watched the conversation between the two Prison Officers like it was a tennis match unaware of her racing pulse and shallow breaths. Calls were made, important people were woken up and she figured a decision had been made when she was asked to get out of the car for processing. She walked through the prison gates like it was the plank of a ship, her legs wilty beneath her. As they escorted her, a female warden addressed her, "Have you eaten?"

Her stomach growled in response. The last meal she ate was that morning. 

The warden pointed to one of the others. "Get her some milk and bananas from the shop." Evelyn breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't realised she had been holding her breath. At least they were kind. That thought was short lived.


In stark contrast to the experience at Langata Womens Prison, here, they decided to process her fully. Like a common criminal. 

"Take off your clothes." One ordered. 

"Here?" She looked back and forth between them, their faces hardened and unreadable. 

She had to strip naked in the full glare of all who were present. Her bra was taken. Next they asked her to cough and carried out a full body cavity search. This action only served to spike her shock with terror. ' This can't be happening,' she thought. When they were done, she put on her uniform and was ordered to squat because an inmate cannot be at the same level as a warden. She was processed in that position. By the time her bananas and milk came, her appetite had taken flight. She ate one and kept the rest.


Machakos Prison is a rural prison. There, they have no trustee system and no special privileges. Except one. A single cell block that had newly donated beds. That is where she was taken. All other prisoners slept on the floor. The sound of gates opening at that time startled the other inmates. There were 12 of them. Mostly asleep. They were not accustomed to the opening of gates after lockdown. Let alone the arrival of a new face. Suddenly the room was full of sleep filled eyes staring at her. 

"You!" The warden pointed at one lady, "give this woman some water for showering. She stinks." Evelyn creased her brow but said nothing. She hated the unnecessary attention. Nonetheless she took the water and headed for the shower.


As expected it was dark and wet with no door. After the officer left, the sleepy eyes got off their beds one after the other and followed her to the bath area. While she showered they stood there, like a choir of zombies and watched her. Evelyn began to feel inside her some last clinging boulder of sanity slipping. Why were they looking at her like that? And saying nothing? 'Don't panic, don't panic,' she kept saying to herself. She carried on as if nothing was happening out of fear of creating a scene. Maybe this is what happened here. She finished and was shown to her bed.


It was uninviting - the bed. The spaces on the mesh were unbelievably large that chunks of flesh could pass through. The mattresses were old and anorexic and you had a single blanket. You could either lie on it or cover yourself with it. She chose the latter. As she prepared to lie down, she noticed the room had no windows yet an unwelcome breeze filled the block. That's when she noticed the countless holes on the wall. Large enough for a hand to pass through. At the top of the wall, was a floodlight that shone directly into the room and stayed on the whole night. Strange. One by one, the staring eyes closed and she was left alone with her thoughts. She prayed and her mind released her to sleep.


The following day the prisoners were woken up at 5:30am for count. Evelyn's eyes flicked open, her hips sore and the clarity of where she was smashed down on her like a head on collision. She looked around and saw that everyone was squatting. 'What had she missed?' She wondered as she stood. The other ladies looked at her in shock. One spoke to her in the local language, with a sense of urgency but she didn't understand. The officers finally got to their cell and counted them from the outside through the holes on the wall; all the while she stood. Confused. She later learned that squatting was a must during count yet somehow they let it pass and moved on. It was time for breakfast.


When outside, Evelyn was finally able to orient herself to her surroundings. The prison was small, with walls that had been discoloured by time, weather and pollution. In total they were about 60 female inmates. There was a male section too but they didn't mix. Most of the women were in zebra striped uniform but there were others in plain grey frocks - those were the remandees. As her eyes wandered, they landed on a woman who looked as old as dirt. She strolled by slowly and had a big orange letter plastered on her uniform. A few others had similar branding and she noticed they stood isolated from the rest.


They all marched silently to a shed where breakfast was to be served and stood in line as each of them was given an old, rusted, miniature sufuria called a mororo. The prison had no cups, spoons or plates. Not for them anyway. Each of them were served with scalding, white, sugarless porridge. It was expected that you should drink it within four minutes. There was a makeshift bench made of two thin,rough tree trunks nailed together. It was easier to stand or sit on the ground. She stood.


The porridge was so hot she could barely hold her sufuria, but her stomach was desperate for food so she had to try. She brought it to her lips, felt the hot steam on her face and in a heartbeat, the cumulative events of the past 24 hours finally came crashing down. She bent over, her shoulders rolled so far toward each other that her body seemed to be trying to swallow itself -  and she cried. In full view of everyone; unable to disguise the wrenching noise of her despair. Her cries attracted stares but no one spoke to her. Remember breakfast was timed!


After a few minutes, she picked up her heart, dusted it and drank her porridge in a few swoops. Better to be depressed on a full stomach, she figured. After that it was time for chores. That day, the chore was to sort through beans. So they each found a place to sit and the sorting began. A few inmates sat with her and they began talking in a bid to get to know each other.


"Why are some inmates' uniforms branded?" Evelyn croaked. Her voice was still full of tears.

"You are wondering about the 88 year old huh. The women with the orange letters are the ones who committed capital offences. We have a name for them - Jambazi sugu." 

"What! What did she do?"

"She married off her grandchild who was underage and was charged for being a co-conspirator to defilement. People don't generally talk to the branded prisoners."

Who would've known inmates stigmatized each other based on the various offences. Her new friend, who looked no more than a child herself was eager to talk so Evelyn indulged her.

"What are you in for?"

"Murder." She didn't bat an eyelid even as Evelyn tried to slow her heart rate. 

"It was accidental though. I found out my boyfriend was cheating so I confronted him. In my anger, I pushed him, he lost balance, fell and hit his head on a table. He didn't survive. I was sentenced to 28 years in prison." 

"How about you?" Evelyn asked another in order to disguise her shock.

"Similar situation. My husband had been hitting me for years and I never reported it. One day, I lost my mind and hit him back real good. He reported me for assault. Here I am."

On and on they spoke as Evelyn soaked in their stories. They were only interrupted when one of the wardens came by. 

"Evelyn the counselor needs to see you and by the way, you can't have braids in the prison. Undo them or we will shave you." She gazed at her and nodded, perfecting the art of a blank stare.


The work of the counselor was to give her the lay of the land. She explained the rules to Evelyn while offering her a cup of tea. 

"You need to deposit money with me to get toiletries like sanitary pads, slippers and so on."

"But I have no money with me."

"You can ask your people but you are only allowed one phone call that is charged and one visit per month." Yet that was the length of her sentence.

She felt the sadness rising but she supressed it. It would be of no use to her here. Surprisingly her family was around and she was allowed to see them with caution to be careful about what she told them.


As she walked to the visiting area, she was followed by the discipline master. A woman who brandished her seniority like a cheerleader in uniform. "No touching, no hugging, no body contact whatsoever." Her voice was as solidly built as her body. She stood close enough to hear them. Her mom saw her and smiled at her the way old friends smile after something bad has happened to you.

"Don't cry mum," she begged, "because I will cry and when I start, I might not stop."

So her mom obliged and encouraged her; reminding her that the 30 days would pass quickly.

"29 Mom. Not 30. I am counting down." She hadn't lost her wit. And not once did her mom ask her to end the fight or backtrack. It was unspoken but she knew that her family still stood by her. After they left, a few doctors came to visit but they were denied entry. Only a lawyer was allowed entry and when he asked her what he could do for her, she said, "Can we get mattresses for the prisoners?" The activist was still in there.


With nothing much to do, time passed like sludge. Before lockdown, she was called again, given a card with her prison number and assigned her duty. 

"For the period of your sentence, you will be the compound cleaner." 

"They seemed to expect a reaction from me but I just nodded. I decided I was going to give them the cleanest compound they had ever seen."


Lockdown was at 4pm; so after supper everyone retreated to their cell blocks. When night collapsed over the prison, Evelyn went to take a shower and there they were again, watching her. Was this a fetish? She dared not ask. Back in the room after a bit of small talk, they slept. Morning came and it was the same drill as the day before. It was only her second day but she already felt like her mind was turning into clay. She had no idea what was going on beyond those gates. No sense of time and her sole purpose had become to agitate for mattresses. 

"We can see you still have not undone that hair."

"I want to. I am looking for a comb."

"We have no combs in prison but we have scissors and we will use them on you if you don't undo that hair." She could sense the wardens were out for her skin.


She was set to start undoing it when a prison medic came and whispered in her ear.

"Don't undo it. You have been released. Your case was appealed. I saw it on TV this morning."

Her mind exploded with this news. Why had no one told her? She walked about and sure enough she spotted her family beyond the short prison fence. When the Warden called her they said she couldn't be released until the paperwork got to the prison and until a certain signal was sent through their communication system. The hours dragged as they waited for the process to be complete; meanwhile she remained a prisoner.

It was time for lockdown and the paperwork had not yet arrived. She was not allowed to see her people because she had exhausted her one visit for the month the previous day. She couldn't make a phone call because she didn't have money to make the call. She felt trapped.


"If by 6pm you are not processed out, you will have to spend the night."


What was it with this place? First they didn't want to let her in, now they don't want her to leave?! She could feel herself coming unhinged. There was no way she was going to spend the night.

Eventually after all the adrenaline had run through her body, she heard the doors open as her name was called out. She packed her clothes like a toddler on a sugar high. Her cell mates watched her in tears. She wasn't sure why they were crying. Whether it was because they would miss her or because she had barely stayed, she had no idea.

" Here. Take my son's number. Call him. He needs a job. Maybe you can help?" One said to her.

" Call my relatives. Tell them I am here." One by one they asked for favours. After she heard them, she shared out the pads she had carried from the other prison, gave out the bananas and milk and left. Some of them had not seen fruit in decades. They were mesmerized.


Evelyn walked out of prison the same way she walked in - alone and in the same clothes she had on the day of arrest. Once outside she was met by friends, family and colleagues. The drive back to Nairobi was a rainbow of emotions. Joy, relief, disbelief. She didn't know that of all the 7, she was the last to be released and there was a crowd of doctors braving the cold, waiting to receive them at the city park. Sometimes there is a tug of war in her heart; between wanting to remember and needing to forget that experience but she can't forget the sound and sight of joy when they arrived at the park. She can't forget the numerous people that hugged her and patted her on the back. They were not alone afterall. They had never been.


"Life is not random. Someone had to be chosen to go to prison. The only bitterness I had was against the government. You can't contract a worker and not give him the tools to work with or create a condusive environment for him to work in. I kept a memento for myself to remember that they tried to bury me but they didn't know I was a seed."




The CBA was eventually signed on 06/07/2017. But is yet to be implemented. The struggle continues.



Image by Dr Brian Maugo


 


As narrated to me by Dr Evelyn Chege. Ps. The prison got the mattresses.


This is dedicated to the CBA 7: Dr Ouma Oluga, Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda, Dr Allan Ochanji, Dr Daisy Korir, Dr Tito and Dr Samuel Oroko

The CBA consisted of several things summarised below:



It still has not been actualised as we still fight for a better health care system for all. Little did we know that a pandemic was on it's way and has caused us to look back and wonder why this has still not been done. Doctors remain unemployed, Services remain poor, Infrastructure remains dilapidated with no drugs and no equipment. Yet this is all we see in the dailies:

March 6, 2018–5 billion Afya House Scandal

June 18, 2018– 7 billion scandal hits health ministry

July 4 2019–10.9 billion Afya House Scandal

And the latest August 2020–43 billion scandal

Kenyans deserve better.

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8 comentarios


Farrar Toya
Farrar Toya
20 ago 2020

Respect for Eve...... Mad respect. I am speechless.

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patricia.oketch
patricia.oketch
19 ago 2020

Glad I got to read the second part. Everlyn thanks for sharing. Am also glad that your family and friends supported you.

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Miembro desconocido
19 ago 2020

Yes the mattresses came through

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Wambui Kyama
Wambui Kyama
19 ago 2020

... that moment with her mum 😢...

Thank you Everlyn and the rest of the CBA 7. I hope we will vote for leaders who will honor this struggle by actualizing the CBA.

Did the mattresses come through?

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Lord, may the Lord never forget their sacrifice

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