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Prison life is doubly arduous for frail inmates

By Antony Gitonga | June 18th 2012
Fredrick Mtambo needs special oil for his skin but this is unavailable in prison and he has to deal with the harsh weather as best he can. [Photo: Antony Gitonga/Standard]

By Antony Gitonga

The high walls marked with manned towers block any onlooker from the ongoing activities therein. The dark and equally high gate is also manned by armed hawk-eyed warders, who scrutinise any visitors visiting the Naivasha Prison.

And security needs to be that thorough for behind the walls and gate of this facility that is said to be the largest in the East and Central Africa is home to more than 3,000 inmates.

The inmates seem to be at home. They play football, a game in which bare-chested men chase after a worn out ball. It is the finals in a football competition whereby two blocks are fighting for the crown.

Grabbing attention

It is not just football grabbing their attention. In a nearby field a game of volleyball is at its peak. The spectators cheer on their teams. But a barber is also taking advantage of the situation to shave his customers.

In some of the rooms within the facilities, hundreds of prisoners are busy learning as their teachers shout at the top of their voices as they try to outdo each other.

Further on, scores are inmates engaged in carpentry, metal work and other manual work as part of their rehabilitation.

In the compound another group is busy sprucing up the grounds as Muslims recite the Quran in a nearby mosque.

One group of prisoners however sticks out conspicuously — the disabled inmates. They sit together, discussing politics and other current affairs.

There are about 50 of them, most of them suffering from mental illness. Others are physically disabled and blind.

But one thing glues them together — pain, challenges and segregation. They lack special services and kits to address their needs.

Some of the inmates came to the prison with disabilities while others got disabled while serving various jail terms and their lives have never been the same.

For example, 49-year-old Elijah Ngotho who is serving a life sentence after he was sentenced in 1999 for robbery with violence, suffered an eye infection in 2000 and his eyesight deteriorated with time, eventually losing his sight in April 2001.

“When I lost my sight, my family abandoned me. I had to rely on fellow inmates for basic needs. For eleven years, my world has been darkness,” he says.

He adds that fetching water, bathing, washing clothes and even eating is a problem adding that soon after becoming blind he was deeply traumatised.

“The prison management have been sensitive to my needs allocating someone to help me but we need special assistance from government. We need special teachers and kits in our learning. I wish inmates with special needs could be pardoned,” tells The Standard

Francis Karanja, 40, is serving 14 years for handling suspected stolen items. When he was imprisoned at the prison in Eldoret, he was physically fit and energetic. Then he hurt his toe while working at the prison in 2006. The wound became worse by the day and within months, the leg had to be amputated under the knee to avoid further infection.

“I was later transferred here and my life has not been the same. Prison is not a joke; it’s everyone for himself,” he says.

No easy life

Getting crutches, says Karanja, is a big challenge. Another great inconvenience for the prisoners with disabilities is being at the mercy of fellow inmates.

“Sometimes the disabled are forced to share pieces of soap with colleagues so that they can help us in various chores.”

For Josphat Gashundu who is serving life sentence, his woes date back to 2004 when a mob  plucked out one of his eyes.

The 35-year-old whose left leg is crippled due to a childhood polio attack says, “It’s a big challenge been in prison when you are disabled as many segregate you and surviving becomes a major challenge.”

Gashundu’s wish is to have special cells for the disabled saying that though the prison management has done its part to help them, a lot more needs to be done.

Fredrick Mtambo, 26, an albino serving a death sentence for robbery with violence, says he needs special oil for his skin.

“But this is not provided for by the prison and I, therefore, have to deal with the harsh weather conditions. Sometimes getting medication is a problem,” says Mtambo.

He adds that he just like other albinos need special eye-glasses to deal with the strong light mainly during daytime but getting them is another challenge.

Above all, the disabled inmates say, fellow prisoners ridicule them.

The officer in charge of the prison Mr Patrick Mwenda says the prisons department is committed to assisting prisoners with disabilities.

The prison ensures that all inmates with disabilities live on the ground floor cells.

“The blind ones get attached to fellow inmates and we do provide crutches to some though our fear is that the crutches could be used as a weapon.”

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