By Markson Omagor
‘Pollen Pollen’ was the first thing I had the following morning at about 5:00AM. Of course during my short stint at prison as a remand, I had learnt that this adulterated word should have been ‘Fall in’, like you have to fall in a line to be counted. In prison, Fall in or pollen meant you paired with your immediate neighbor to be counted. The sound of ‘Pollen’ got me just trying to catch my first sleep.
So I paired with my Makerere University OB and got counted. Shortly after the counting was declared a success by a single bang on a ( car rim), RPs came for me and others who were freshers to report to the office of Chief Boma.
At the office of Chief Boma, we were required to fill in our particulars in a form that required age, weight, height, eye color, nature of offence that resulted into conviction, intention to appeal or not to, Next of Kin and any unnatural marks on the body. It was then that I realized I had lost weight from close to 90kgs to only 74.
“Markson remove your shirt,” Chief ordered like he did to all others and I did as instructed.
“Show us your chest first,” and I did upon which curious eyes searched for any unnatural scar, but there was none.
“Now turn your back,” and I obeyed.
“What is that scar on your left rib cage?” Chief asked me. I did not know that the scar still existed because my wife had bitten me about a month back.
“It is a bite sir,” I answered and ‘who bit you?’ he asked again.
When I told him it was my wife, he burst out into laughter and said ‘women are funny creatures.’
After completing our registration, we were then led back to where we had each spent the previous night. At that point, my intestines were rumbling with nothing in them. I was dead hungry, very thirsty, exhausted and generally just swimming in confusion. Therefore, when I got back to B3 where I spent the night, I was ready to take prison porridge, however poor. I was also told that I did not belong to B3 and was subsequently led to C4.
At C4, the RP who led me there handed me over to the Ward RP Commander. I asked for my share of porridge but I was bluntly told it was finished. He however, advised me to go back to B3 where I slept and was counted that morning, meaning my share should be there. B3 is in B Block just next to C Block where I had been transferred to.
I quickly rushed back to B3 but Alas! My share had been appropriated by someone else. By midday, I felt I weighed half my actual weight. I decided to look for the only person I had known, my MUK OB. I found Oucul under some mango tree within Block C cooking rice, cabbage and dodo for himself. My hunger got worse. We chatted a bit but shortly afterwards, a bell rang for afternoon Pollen that must be done before lunch is served. I ran back to my new Ward and got counted there. Then lunch was served.
A cleaner (title given to inmates in charge of picking food from the kitchen and serving the rest inside the Ward) asked for my plate after serving the Seniors but I had none. He then sympathized with me and offered me his. The posho was as brown as maize brand, I was given like a quarter a cup of beans to serve both lunch and supper and two blocks of posho. A block of posho is served in a rectangle form. So it is upon the inmate to choose whether to hammer all the food at once, or eat one block for lunch and part of the beans then keep the rest for supper. Ideally, prison food should be eaten hot because first the poor quality posho gets worse as it cools.
I immediately got down to business and started eating. Of course the posho was bitter but I only noticed the degree of its bitterness when I was halfway the first block. And when I got to chewing beans, almost every attempt was met by a crackling sound. I was biting stone after stone until my neighbor taught me how to chew prison beans.
“My friend, you will finish your teeth here if you continue chewing beans like that. What you should do, after scooping the beans into your mouth, use your tongue to run through what is in your mouth. In the process you will be able to identify the stones and spit them out,” That was one of my first lessons that I learnt the hard way.
Well, I didn’t finish even a block of posho but somehow, I finished the beans.
I went out after lunch trying to acclimatize the environment but I think I was just a walking zombie. I don’t remember a thing I can say I saw that afternoon. My worst fears came to pass when evening came and all prisoners came back to their bases. (Most of them would be out during the day working or studying). The Ward (word used to mean a cell, almost the size of a normal classroom) got crowded to abnormal.
The Ward leadership together with esteemed Elders slept at the far left side of the room. Then the hierarchy followed like that, the more privileged slept next to the walls, the underprivileged and new comers had to struggle to find space in the corridor. (Corridor was small space left at the center of the room for purposes of movements) however because of lack of space, this corridor was also occupied.
I think I did a lot of standing not knowing what to do, where to start, or whom to approach. As luck had it, someone called me by name, and I was shocked. He called me again and beckoned me to join him at his bed.
“You don’t remember me Doctor?” he asked and indeed I could not. He then reminded me that we met at Malukhu Prison during my short remand stint. Well to me, that was a breather.
He asked if I had carried a mattress, bedsheets or blanket. I had none of those except the only clothes I wore to court. My new friend was called Makwasi. He offered me free accommodation for the night. (The accommodation meant sharing a mattress that was conveniently cut to a width of about two feet. And the only way to share it was by reverse sleeping, feet facing head.)
Meanwhile, Makwasi assured me that if I worked the right gears, I could comfortably sleep well the following day.
Then the Ward RP called me to the toilets for induction and I knew this was my chance to start ‘working the right gears’. Inside the toilets were three rooms. Opposite them were two jerrycans open at the top and what I was told was the water area.
The first room was disused toilet that I was told was strictly a urinal, the second room was a bathroom and the third and furthest was the toilet forced to be in use.
If you want to use the toilet, you must fetch 3 liter jerrycan fulls of water, pour it in that basin over there. After using the toilet, pour all that water in the basin into the toilet with force to flush. The next user must not see your dung.
Then use that a half liter jerrycan of water to wash your behind. Here we don’t use toilet paper or other forms of paper because they can easily block the system.
“After washing your behind, you see that soap on the wall?” he asked me, of course I had not seen it. These guys had kind of plastered soap on the wall such that you only touched the surface and you have the soap in your hands. “Use that soap to wash your hands thoroughly,” he commanded.
Now in the event that you spilled some water in the process of pouring it into the toilet, there were blanket rags available for you to mop. The toilet had to be dry at all times. Well he went on and on until I found space to tell him that I owned some capacity to rent sleeping space.
He understood obviously and told me he was going to have a word with the Chairman of the Ward to fix me up. I waited till 8:00PM when I was given the bad news that my issue was to be handled the following day.
So that night I slept with Makwasi reverse style with my legs facing his head and vice versa.