I once slept in a cell. I was in my mid-twenties, and found myself in a filthy cell in Nairobi’s Shauri Moyo. A bucket of poop was at the door, inside the cell, where the crowded inmates relieved themselves in the open. A drunken fellow had wrapped himself around the bucket using it as a pillow as other inmates occasionally had him slightly raise his head so that they can urinate on it, tiny sludgy muddy droplets of the toxic concoction splashing on his face. He just continued wrapped himself on that bucket overnight sniffling from an obvious cold. This bucket should be labeled “highly infectious waste” like that red bucket at Nairobi women’s hospital laboratory section waiting room which patients occasionally use to vomit in.
I had come from the Kinyozi, at around nine at night, where the estate barber had given me a clean shave. It was a Friday night. I was heading home 200 meters away, 500 bob in the pocket to last me the next week, as I went ahead with my job search. I was already 3 months in rent arrears, but the landlord of the seven story contraption of hundreds of single roomed houses in Eastleigh was so busy putting up more contraptions on swamps to even notice I had not paid up. But occasionally, he would write SMS messages threatening to evict my sorry ass. As I took a bend where Mwarimo had his popular mutura joint, a troop of police officers, thugs really, landed on me with kicks and blows and ordered I sit in a dark corner. We were many that night that were rounded up in the popular slums msako that is meted on innocent youths. As I tried to ID myself, that I was a peace keeping, not just peace loving Kenyan, my lips were met by a mighty slap that combined the teeth and tongue together. I swallowed metal. Why does blood taste like metal? I knew better than to protest. It did not take long before the Mariamu came, and took us to the station. Some of the boys managed to get off before we got to the station by bribing the police. The minimum they accepted was 500 bob. No way was I going to part with my week’s lifeline.
We were about fifty inmates on a 25 meter squared room. There were children as young as ten years in the same cell. Their crime? Scaling the perimeter fence at Eastleigh military airbase. The room was hot, filthy, and smoke filled with a tiny ventilation starting and ending on the roof. A favorite port for mosquitos. In the overcrowded room, butts of cigarettes changed hands, where only a single puff was remaining, with many just smoking the spongy wet saliva filled filter. Prisoner traders were trading the puffs at 10 bob each, as they excitedly plunged themselves in the pockets of new arrivals to rob them of whatever valuables they had not left with the police safe keeper on the door where we left our belts, one shoe, money, and anything you wanted the thieves masquerading as police to keep in safe custody. That is where I registered by 500 bob, belt, and cellular phone. The safe custody was a huge wooden box where everything anybody had was mixed together. From cellphones, to wallets, to belts to … anything.
There were two bread slice thin mattresses which were used by the borders. The mattress, which had no covers had patches of dried poop. Dried manure actually spread in a way that it looked like Weetabix. Dried curated poop that looked harmless. The boarding prisoners stayed in the cell for months without ever being prosecuted. One had been inside for a month. He claimed his employer had thrown him in for refusing to remit money he got on a return trip ferrying cargo in a lorry to which he was the driver. “The main trip belongs to my employer, the return trip belongs to me, otherwise I could just have returned with no cargo. I looked for that job”. He argued.
When the heavily armed AK47 cladding policeman came to refill the cell with more thugs, I begged to stand on the corridors for a minute to escape the hot smokey cell. He threatened to throw me on the next cell that had lunatics screaming all night long. That made me see our hotel room as paradise. I chose paradise.
We slept standing. We slept sitting. And most importantly we slept wide awake. There was no room to sleep sleeping.
We slept standing. We slept sitting. And most importantly we slept wide awake. There was no room to sleep sleeping. Families trooped in the police station all night long securing the release of their loved ones. The desperate paid as much as 10,000. Those who were good at bargaining paid 5,000. Those who were patient paid 2,000. The poor poor stayed in the cells. We did not attempt to bargain. As jobless as I was, I was still the breadwinner in my family. The only person I could call to save myself was myself. And my week’s keep 500 bob. There was no way I was letting that 500 bob depart me. That was my week’s savior, despite not being united with it since it was under the safe custody. I had let my equally hopeless and jobless roommate, Gyvon know I was incarcerated.
In the morning, after the roll call, cloudy warm tea was served with bread. We lunged into it with dirty hands with no care in the world that we had congress with the prison bucket. That is what hunger does to you.
By morning, my will was weakened, resolve broken. That is what incarsaration does to someone. Beat them. Break them. Then steal from them. Fleece them. These poor slum dwellers have nowhere to hide. The every reliable Gyvon was there. And Catherine representing my mum. Waiting in queue to hear my crimes, and the next cause of action.
These atrocities still happen today in slums in the name of msako. Say no to msako which imprisons young men in their own localities.