By KIUNDU WAWERU
One day four decades ago, warders at Naivasha Maximum Security Prison visited inhuman brutality on prisoners.
The details of that day, April 24, 1972, are captured in a book titled My Life in Prison, authored by John Kiriamiti, a self-confessed former criminal. As some people have said of Kiriamiti’s writings, the events of that day read like good fiction from an imaginative writer.
However, court proceedings that followed investigations into the torture of prisoners proved that it really happened.
First reports indicated a group of prisoners had been injured as they tried to escape.
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However, news of what really happened leaked out and a preliminary inquiry was opened at the Nakuru Courts on May 17, 1972.
Kiriamiti narrates how he had been ordered, together with a fellow inmate, to take a table to the carpentry section from his polishing section. The prison had workshops for metalwork, carpentry and tailoring.
Robbery with violence
Kiriamiti, then serving 20 years for robbery with violence, was only a few weeks into his sentence at the two-year-old prison that had an inmate population of 4,500.
According to an earlier article by The Standard, there were about 60 convicts in the carpentry section. Among them were Mwangi Mwaura, 30, and Mwangi Kairu, 25, both serving long terms for robbery with violence.
Kiriamiti recounts how a prison officer confronted one of the inmates, identified in court as Mwangi Kairu, for not having finished a sideboard he was working on. The officer hit Mwaura in the chest with a swagger stick.
“Don’t hit me in the chest again. Tell me what you want me to do but don’t hit me again,” Kairu said. The officer felt insulted by this, and went on hitting the prisoner. It was then that Kairu reacted, with his hands behind his back. He reached for a hammer behind him and as he brought it down to hit the officer, it dropped. Kairu was then restrained by two warders.
Kiriamiti writes that Mwaura then hopped from bench to bench, hammer in hand, and fell on the officer restraining Kairu. He hit the officer on the head. Other prisoners and the warders ran for dear life.
Mwaura then did a gory thing. Although Kiriamiti mixes up the names, compared to the court witnesses, he vividly paints the picture of what ensued.
Incensed, Mwaura hit the officer who had been sent sprawling with the hammer again and again, even though he was unconscious.
“He took a very sharp chisel, three-eighths of an inch wide, bent over his victim and struck into the brain using the hammer. Blood oozed out. The assailant took off his clothes, like a man preparing for an important job. He sat on the victim’s chest. As the blood oozed out, he scooped some with his hands and drank it, smearing his body with the rest.”
The court heard that on that fateful day, Johannes Nyokaya Saita, a senior technical assistant in charge of the carpentry section, walked into the workshop at 6.30am and found Kairu working on a cabinet.
“Kairu told me he had done it the previous week and was not going to do it again,” said Saita. He told the carpentry instructor to take Kairu’s number for disciplinary action.
But another prisoner, William Langat, said he saw Saita hit Kairu several times.
He pushed Kairu to go to the duty officer and the convict replied, “Don’t push me, you have told me where to go so let me go freely.”
Langat told the inquiry that the prisoner retreated with his hand outstretched backwards to reach for a hammer placed on the bench. Saita told the inquiry that he saw Kairu go round the table with a hammer in his hand. As he made to raise it, he was pushed away by another prisoner and the hammer fell down.
Then Saita and other warders, among them Samson Adhola, restrained the prisoner. The inquiry heard that the other prisoners started to heckle while holding wooden planks. Mwaura came from nowhere and struck Adhola on the head. The inquiry was told of the gory scene that followed. The alarms let out a chilling cry.
On May 19, 1972, Senior Superintendent of Prisons at Naivasha Frederick Opondo Agot, told the senior magistrate hearing the inquiry, Mr K Sachdeva, that he went to the prison on hearing the alarm. Mwaura’s naked body was covered in blood and there was blood and “some white stuff dripping from his mouth”.
Agot said he shouted to Mwaura to stop in Kiswahili. He did not stop and Ogot asked a Kikuyu warder to order Mwaura to stop in Gikuyu. Mwaura obliged and he was handcuffed. In his book, Kiriamiti recounts that the prison officer ordered and disarmed Mwaura at gunpoint.
Engulfed in tension
Then all the prisoners were ordered to squat. The alarms went on shrilling and the prison was engulfed in tension.
What followed, according to the witnesses at the inquiry, was unrestrained violence meted on the prisoners by incensed warders seeking revenge. The prisoners were taken out, a cell at a time and, nude and in groups, passed through lines of warders armed with batons and whips; others had guns cocked. They were gathered at the football pitch where the beating continued. The injured lay with the dead in pools of streaming blood. Kiriamiti says the beatings left many “parents without sons.” Many were seriously injured and after it all, heard the inquiry, six prisoners were left dead.
Kiriamiti writes that the beating and harassment took all day; warders on duty and others were brought from afar to join the fray. It went on until 6.30pm, when the prisoners were locked up without food.
Kiriamiti writes that the following day, a handful of them were interrogated by the police. From their tones, he gathered that they had been told the prisoners had prearranged everything so they could escape in the ensuing mayhem.
Indeed, the public was told that the convicts were injured while attempting to escape. Eighteen prisoners, warders and Criminal Investigating Officers were called to testify.
The government pathologist, Jason Kaviti, conducted the post-mortems and said that the warder’s brain may have been eaten. Part of it was in liquid form and the chest had three holes. The lungs had been ruptured.
Mwaura and Kairu were charged with the murder of Adhola. Kairu denied, while Mwaura confessed to the killing, saying he could not stand being punished “because of my small size and no one hearing my cries”.
A Mathare Hospital doctor examined Mwaura and returned a verdict of not insane. He was declared fit to stand trial. Mwaura’s lawyer protested and another psychologist concluded he was not fit to stand trial.
No inquiry was conducted into the deaths of the six inmates and from court cases, it is not clear what became of the Mwaura and Kairu case.