I walked in a free woman.
The undeniable quality of curiosity added light to my eyes and a spring to my step. The guard led us through a tall green iron gate and the heavy sound of the latch resounded like a thunder strike as if to say “welcome to the underworld” .
Underworld? Not yet.
We entered what looked like a waiting area; only there was nobody waiting. Everyone seemed to have a purpose and hurried around as if standing on one spot might set off an explosion that would put Hiroshima and Nagasaki to shame. Uniformed officers, dashed back and forth with crumpled papers. An elderly man complained in a loud voice about being disrespected by one of the prison guards. An alhaja, dressed in all black, fumbled with her head gear and my eyes dashed back and forth, trying to keep up with all these activities.
We were searched. Sorry, we were caressed by a female officer with gloved hands who instructed us in a voice colder than a frog’s nose to “place all phones on the table” .
I glanced at a blackened portion of an originally green 5×7 wall that doubled as a black board bearing information as precise as a surgeon’s scapel.
912 persons awaiting trial.
170 persons convicted; 167 males, 3 females.
We signed in and were led through an open area that must have been the ‘prison yard’. My group mates and I had 2 main focus. Keeping close to the chief psychiatrist we’d accompanied and ignoring the stares from the prisoners (mostly male) who appeared to be “receiving fresh air”. Oh God the stares!
They fell on me like melted candle wax, causing me to feel warm but uncomfortable. Warm because even within the walls of a Nigerian prison, attention is still food for a woman’s soul. Uncomfortable because the red, off shoulder,body hugging dress I wore offered no protection from their lustful undressing eyes.
What is life without common pleasures as freedom and sex? I concluded… Damnation is not for the weak.
We settled in at the sick bay and waited for the prisoners in need of a mental checkup to start arriving. The young man with the freshly ironed prison wear and chinese tattoo standing beside the nurse caught my attention. He wore a leather watch and rocked a haircut that screamed rockstar! He was friendly and 5 minutes after we settled in, he entertained us with his story.
He was once a loser who trafficked hard drugs. After a bad deal he was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. He had however gotten used to the system and risen to the rank of “honourable” in the Prison Government. With his knowledge of drugs, he works in the prison sickbay, assisting the nurses in dispensing drugs and caring for sick inmates. I arrived at a new conclusion… Damnation makes the weak, strong.
One by one, they crawled in, spent at least 30 minutes, and crawled out.
A 35 year old man was manic.
A young man of 19 could not remember his name.
A 60 year old woman awaiting trial was pregnant and depressed .
I was getting bored.
All of a sudden, the whole room turned to look at me and burst out laughing. I quickly turned to Shola begging her to let me in on the joke.
But Shola can be such a cockroach.
She was too busy laughing, she paid me no attention.
10 minutes later, I finally got my translation.
Strange inmate: *turns to me and says in yoruba* I know this sister. Back in Ilesha, we used to gyrate. We didn’t date o, but things went down.
It had to be the dress….
Well, the dress plus the fact that …Damnation robs a man of his sanity.
I walked out, a prisoner of my own thoughts. Confusion casted a shadow in my eyes and a slouch to my posture.
The real world bore 5 similarities to this underworld.
1.None of us asked to be here.
2. It is a beehive of endless activities and possibilities.
3. Some of us have found peace and learned to make the best of our situation.
4.Some of us haven’t.
5. We have however come up with an organized system to put some order to the madness. We call it, Government.
And so I concluded…
All men are imprisoned. But some are more imprisoned than the others.
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