By Markson Omagor
EAZY WIKEND READING
Our Double Cabin Pick up finally entered the gates of Luzira Prison at 11:00 PM by that time we were cold and shivering, only trying to warm ourselves by nestling to each other. That was Friday night.
We were checked briefly at the main entrance gate and allowed to proceed. The upward drive, drove my emotions high: Where was I going to spend this night? What can I of reception awaits me? How do these guys bully here? I was thus lost in thought until I noticed we were headed to the Maximum Upper Prison.
Don’t ask how I knew. I had spent my S.4 year living with an uncle who was a Prison Driver while studying at the then third world Luzira Senior Secondary School. But for all the time, I lived at Luzira as a civilian, I had never had the opportunity of entering let alone interact with any prisoner from the Upper Prison wing.
So when the huge metallic gates were opened for our vehicle, the cold wind impact tripled- I literally broke into a panic. The grotesque huge gates as high as 14 feet were frightening to say the least.
“So am going to spend this weekend at Upper Prison, mixing with the most notorious of prisoners?” I silently asked the quaking me. My stay at the prison as a civilian taught me that Upper was for murderers, rapists, arsonists, and treason suspects only awaiting death by hanging. So those are the guys I was afraid of meeting that night and the following two days.
We were ordered to pick our luggage and register them at the store for collection the following day. We were left with only the clothes we were putting on. From the main gate, we were walked through a high ceiled corridor smelling dust; and I could feel the coldness of the high steel walls enveloping me. It was a walk of nearly three minutes before we entered what looked like a quarter of a football pitch, here at least there was some fresh air. We were forced to squat in this open field for another 30 minutes as the officers looked for us room to sleep.
After the 30 minutes, we were led to a room that had beds, mattresses, blankets and even bed sheets and yet not more than 10 occupants! I breathed a breath of relief knowing that my two days in Luzira whether in Upper or wherever were not going to be as bad as I thought.
It was only after the Prison Warders had left that we discovered the room was actually a Sick Bay and the prisoners we found there were actually very sick – on their journeys from the earthly tomb to the everlasting- they looked pathetic, helpless and hopeless.
All the same, I had a sound sleep, having slept on an actual bed for the first time in now three weeks. I still had this hope that I would spend the next day and the following one sleeping there. ‘At least I can tolerate the pathetic faces as long as I can have good room to sleep, some fresh air to inhale’ I told myself.
The following morning came with sadness. First we were woken up at 5:30 AM for what is called ‘Fall-In’ meaning to be counted before any activities can proceed, so just know my sleep was rudely cut short.
Secondly, after ‘Fall-In’ a prison officer came for us and took us to ‘Chief Boma’ the Operations In Charge. He took my details and engaged me in some chat before calling another officer to lead me to my new Cell. With my few belongings, together with my LCV Chairman friend from a Karamoja district and his brother, we were led to our new Cells.
The Cells were on the third floor of a block, I have forgotten. I was ushered into one of the Cell’s after the Katikiro had been called to receive new visitors. My two colleagues were also taken to another Cell but on the same Floor.
Apparently the Katikiro was a man in his mid 30’s and really amiable. He welcomed me and told me to feel at home. I stayed inside the whole day, getting in and out of sleep. Mistake Number One.
At 4:00PM when the bell went for prisoners to ‘Ingia Daani’ meaning enter inside, the room got so full that I immediately started feeling like fainting. The air became so dense that I could hardly breathe without opening my mouth. That is when I knew I would not last the two days in that cell alive.
The Katikiro noticed my discomfort and exchanged places with me. His Sheraton Hotel Apartment was the space just next to the door. He told me I should sleep with my nostrils directed towards the under door openings such that I can catch some fresh air. Indeed it helped; there was some little air because to say it was fresh would be a big lie. The corridor was even more packed than our Cell and when these brothers started letting off gases caused by half cooked beans and maize bran posho, the air got messier.
Having exhausted much of myself during the day, the night discomforts only ensured that I spent those 14 hours awake. 14 hours because Lock Up starts at 4:00 PM although officially bed time starts at 9:00PM when lights are switched off and no more conversations are allowed.
The following day was a Sunday and immediately after ‘Fall-In’ I was among the first to leave the room to go outside for some fresh air, for some semblance of life.
I spent the day trying to see how life in Maximum prison operates. It was a complete departure from the Malukhu I had gotten to know. In Malukhu there was only the NRM Yellow uniform, at Upper Prison there were three sets of Uniform: The NRM yellow was for those on remand but charged with capital offences, there was white for the convicts serving sentences ranging from 10 years above and then the orange for those on death row- convicted and sentenced to death by hanging only waiting for the President’s assent.
The NRM Yellow and White uniformed inmates shared Cells but the Orange Uniformed Prisoners lived in their own block which was situated on the West Wing.
There was no hard labour except those working in the schools as teachers, laundry, kitchen and the Sick Bay.
That day was full of activities: there were Church services going on with hymns accompanied by sweet sounds of Adungu, others were watching Television, others were on the field playing football, others like me just kept on loitering around trying to discover the mighty Upper.
In one of my sojourns, I was shown Arinaitwe, the serial killer who loved and murdered beautiful girls in Kampala. I could not believe my eyes. Arinaitwe was a handsome young man who looked as innocent as a baby. He interacted freely, was a jolly guy who seemed at peace with himself. Arinaitwe taught me never to trust anybody by his/her looks and demeanor.
Then I proceeded to the Sports ground and oh boy! Whom did I see? The Kaitikkiro of Tooro, the famous Katuramu seated on a high throne like seat just besides the pitch. He had servants seeing to his needs and one of the things I saw Katuruma do was sign cheques. ‘Ok,’ I said to myself, so this guy manages his businesses even when he is in this high gate, high walled and high security prison!
4:00PM came and we were ushered back inside with the usual gong and ‘Ingia daani’ commands echoed by all RPs. I ate my dry ratio that included doughnuts and milk. But before bedtime, my colleague, the LCV Chairman came with camel meat kept fresh in its own oil and one chapatti. I ate to my fill that evening, a good omen. He wished me luck the following day and retreated back to his own Cell.
The night was the same as the previous except that at 5:30AM, a one Hajji who was having his ‘Subuhi’ the first Morning Prayer came for me and prayed for me.
“Doctor, with Allah’s blessings, you are not going to come back here, you are going home, In-sha-Allah,” he assured me. In return, I told the Katikkiro to hand over all my edibles, two boxers and a towel to the Hajji if the night reached and I was not back. The mattress and other items like my open shoes, I left in the care of the Katikkiro.
At 6:00, I was picked by a Prison Warder who led me out of the first gate, the gate next to the playground to the high gated one leading out of Maximum Prison. There was a Prison Bus waiting for me and others appearing before various High Courts in Kampala that Monday.
However, there was some delay and the Prison officials started worrying.