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Are these Kenya's worst prisons?

Going to prison is never a joke, but if you are headed to one of these prisons, you will have one hell of a sentence.

Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela once said that to know the actual state of a nation you have to visit its jails, a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.

If Kenya was to be judged by the State of its Prisons, then as a country we could be staring at a bleak future.

While the core function of the prison service in Kenya is to rehabilitate offenders and keep in custody those who are awaiting trial, nearly 50 years after independence, country's prisons have failed to live the dream.

A majority of the prisons in Kenya including Kodiaga were built during before colonial times, but since then nothing much has changed.

Many of these prisons have living conditions that are not even fit for swines. It's here that thousands of cannibals, terrorists and killers live out the rest of their days.

In these prisons, you will find dozens of half-naked bodies, pressed together on the concrete floor of their tiny cells that have no flesh air, let alone sun.

The wards are filled with fetid smell of sweat, dirt and human waste.

In the past two months, convicts, prison officers and former inmates have narrated to the Standard an insider's tales of squalor, violence, drugs and disease.

Mention of Kodiaga prison scares away unruly children

For troublesome children, just a mention of the word Kodiaga Prison is enough to make them change their wicked behaviour and reform.

In actual life, Kodiaga GK Prison, that stands on top of Kisumu city's Riat hills, is a hell of a place even for the toughest jailbird.

Being incarcerated at Kodiaga a hellish experience as you face torture, starvation and murder often. If suicide doesn't kill you, fellow inmates finish the job.

A good example is that of serial killer Harrison Okumu who tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide early this year. Last month, his cellmates killed him during a brawl.

"It is too much when you have ten deaths in one prison within a period of two months. There must be something wrong in Kodiaga,'' says Kisumu West MP Olago Aluoch. The prison is located in his constituency.

Prisoners describe the jail that currently houses more than 2, 650 prisoners, over double its capacity, as one of the worst places to be incarcerated. It has one of the worst suicide rates of any prison in Kenya due to its hostile, sanity-destroying atmosphere.

If you were to take a walk around the prison, the first thing that would stick out is the rust everywhere with armed wardens stationed on watchtowers monitoring movements of prisoners.

Visiting guests who want to make their way in to the prisoners' dormitories have to pass through three highly guarded gates though which you have to pass before arriving in "hell."

Inside the prison, inmates stay in dormitories with leaking roofs.

At the male prison, due to shortage of sleeping materials, the convicts sleep on tattered mattresses with worn-out blankets which are shared among them.

The food rations are hardly enough.

Instances where prisoners have run out of water or basic commodities like drugs or worse, died are alarming.

During a tour of the prison last month together with MPs, our team discovered that the health centre had run out of basic drugs as well as equipment including syringes for the better part of the year. The facility lacked simple drugs like antibiotics.

Requests for fresh supply were yet to be honoured months later. Instead of getting official supply of medicine, the health centre was forced to beg for the items from neighbouring health facilities to enable prisoners get medication.

Esther Masai, the Officer in Charge of Health Centre said the shortage had resulted in the situation of sick prisoners getting worse due to missed medication. As a result, a number of them were forced to request their relatives to buy drugs for them.

"It is a desperate situation considering that these are detainees who must be kept within the facility and we cannot allow them to go out to buy them,'' she said.

At the workshops which are meant to offer them (prisoners) necessary technical skills in carpentry and metal fabrication, the prisoners were still using archaic machines donated in the 60s by well-wishers.

The machines that range from simple wood fitting and carving tools are worn out therefore slowing work.

At the women's prison which hosts some 100 inmates, life is unbearable for convicts' children who have stayed put with their mothers.

The children, mainly below the age of four who are between 10-16 in numbers, were mostly given birth in the facility.

Violent guards at Wundanyi GK prison

The Wundanyi JK Prison is a hell of a place to live. Prisoners are forced to fight for mattresses and blankets.

The wards are also infested with lice.

"Bedbugs have been contained but what remains a major challenge is lice infestation which is giving sleepless nights," says, Mr Mohammed, an inmate who was released from the prison last week.

The convicts at Wundanyi allege that warders have been stealing their bedbugs leaving them only with the options of sharing the few remaining mattresses or sleeping on the cold floor.

"Several prisoners have been left to fight for space in the two-and half -inch mattresses," the prisoners said.

Wundanyi is also one of the prisons where inmates go hungry as the food rations are inadequate. The prisoners allege that the authorities are converting the two pieces of meat they are entitled to money.

"They keep on lying that we are eating enough meat. The truth is that part of the meat is converted into money by the prison officers charged with the responsibility to buy the food," claimed the prisoners.

Wundanyi is a notorious hotbed of violence known particularly for brutal guards.

Prisoners at Wundanyi allege that they are regularly beaten by prisons wardens and officers.

"We are even forced to wash warder's clothes and clean their houses including cutting grass for livestock owned by senior prison officers," some of the prisoners told The Standard.

In May, the Taita-Taveta County Assembly drafted a law seeking to relocate Wundanyi GK prison to a faraway area form the town.

The County Assembly accused the prison of discharging human waste and sewerage matter into a local river endangering residents to a number of dangers including contacting water-borne diseases.

When asked for feedback, prison officials more than often defend their conduct.

Wundayi GK prison is located in Taita Taveta County. The other jails in the county are Manyani Maximum, Voi and Taveta GK Prisons.

Taita-Taveta County Prisons Commander Nicholas Maswai, where Wundanyi GK falls, rubbishes claims that prison authorities are violating the rights of prisoners.

"I am not aware that prisoners are being beaten in local facilities. Prison officers are aware of the law and anyone found perpetrating the vice will be disciplined," he told the Standard.

Daring jail breaks at Shimo la Tewa

When two inmates died of cholera on May 19 at Shimo La Tewa Prison, it was the latest fresh bad news from the Maximum Security Prison located in Mombasa that has become synonymous for the wrongs in Kenya's prison system.

Until recently Shimo La Tewa Prison was described as a "camp of death" owing to many deaths.

Shimo La Tewa holds 2,600 inmates who include prisoners, suspects and remandees, the facility is notorious for its daring jail breaks and violent fights.

Currently, the prison hosts dozens of convicted foreign sea pirates and a total of 29 top terror suspects at its notorious Block F. The newest group of inmates is 24 former servicemen serving life terms after being convicted by military tribunals at Mtongwe naval base in Mombasa for alleged desertion.

On July 13 2013, two prisoners serving life sentences, Cosmas Mogaka and Hassan Ngale, fled the prison through a warren of prison check points, gates, high walls and perimeter fences. Mogaka was rearrested after a month but Hassan remains at large.

In March 18, last year, British national and terror suspect Jermaine Grant suffered a skull fracture just above his right eye in an alleged fierce fight between hardcore inmates and prison warders, who were, reported to be suppressing an attempted jail break from the notorious Block F on March 18 last year.

According to a former inmate at the prison, the escape plan involved killing prison warders and unwilling inmates then slither out using ropes and hooks smuggled in or made from blankets.

"One warder was stabbed with a knife in the belly and throttled as two prisoners wrested away cell keys," the former inmate Maurice Otieno says.

Although the prison authorities deny the report, The Standard established that the stabbing incidence was reported at Bamburi Police Station after the injured warder was treated at the Coast General Hospital.

During the clamour for multi-party democracy, among the various inmates at the facility were political prisoners with the likes of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Inmates use mattresses as tissue paper at Kakamega

When a parliamentary team from the Security committee in March went on a tour of prisons in Kenya, they were shocked when they found out that almost all the cells at Kakamega GK Prison had very old and torn mattresses.

When Kesses MP James Bett, one of the members of the committee, inquired why virtually all mattresses in the cells were torn, he was told by the Officer In Charge Silas M'tambu that the inmates use mattresses as tissue paper for lack of basics like tissue paper.

Kakamega Main prison was built in 1932 with colonial government and houses 1,205 inmates above the recommended 500.

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