In my village, Thanda Maria, Ninjas engaging in acts that are contrary to laws of the Republic of Kenya is pretty common. Because of this, many persons around our thicket are well acquainted with regular incarceration and custodial sentences of varying lengths.
Many will tell you that, “nií ní jùí gùkaba.” Directly translated, it says, ‘I know how to Kaba’. This means that one is familiar with the act of squatting in a compact single file for the purposes of being counted in a Kenyan prison. I am told that learning how to Kaba for a first time convict is usually a very unpleasant affair that is often accompanied by untold violence.
Prison is a pretty unpleasant thing that is to be avoided at all costs around here when someone can. Whenever a disagreement arises, a common threat, ‘Ní ngùkùríhíra ngima’, is usually issued. When you hear this phrase being directed at your person, someone with deeper pockets than yours is threatening to ‘pay ugali’ for you. This ugali is to be eaten at the nearest prison facility and accompanied by gnashing of teeth.
Another unspecified threat constantly being thrown around is ’niùgùthií kùhoria cùrù’. This basically tells that you risk going to cool prison porridge if you continue down a certain path. Porridge is apparently very hot behind bars.
I must admit that Thanda Maria has taught me many things about law enforcement. I am known to have many friends around here and I love a good story. So Ninjas who know many things love to tell me their stories. Also, being the proprietor of the most popular watering hole in Thanda Maria means I have a front row seat to many hilarious stories. I feel like I know the architecture of local prisons by heart from the series of stories told to me by the many who visit them frequently.
Around here, I have learnt many things. I have learnt that the government of the Republic of Kenya has many laws and it does not like it when anyone breaks them. If you happen to be poor, they like it even less when you break them. If you are caught breaking the law under the influence of poverty; they make an example out of you. They even take it upon themselves to tell you that they are making an example out of you incase it is not abudantly clear. As the duly appointed judicial officer reads out your sentence, they may add the customary, ili iwe funzo kwako na kwa wengine wenye tabia kama zako.
The good government of Kenya loves it’s laws so much that it has a dedicated service for making an example out of you if you break them; The Kenya Prison Service. This Service trains officers in a place called Rúirú who are very talented at making you a shining example for others. They know how to teach you manners incase you run out of them. They will instill in you a healthy respect for the law. They call it ‘kurekebisha na haki’.
I have a friend who served 12 years in Kíng’ong’o, Gathigiriri and Mùrang’a prisons for a serious offense around the village. He tells me to avoid a trip to prison by all means necessary. He likes to preach good behavior to anyone who cares to listen. He tells me that the prisons department is very creative with punishment. He openly admits that he committed a crime but he tells me the amount of punishment this department issued him with was hugely disproportionate to his act.
As he likes to say, ‘Ihera ríría ndaherithirio ní thirikari ya Kenya, ríakíríte ihítia ríakwa maita ngiri’. My punishment was a thousand times my crime.
He also assures me that no matter how long your sentence is, the government of Kenya will train prison officers to guard you and it will not get tired. You will be guarded until Jesus comes back if that is how long your sentence is.
He tells me that if the government deems it fit to host you at one of it’s many correctional facilities, they expect you to work. You are expected to offer unrestricted free labour to the prison industries and farms on behalf of the director of prison enterprises. You will plough rice you will never eat and juicy mangoes you will never chew until you drop. You will make exotic furniture you’ll never use. You will sand timber until your reflection shines upon it. If you hold anything back or are not enterprising enough, the good officers from Rúirú are well trained in the science of clobbering people. They will issue you with a standard beating to within an inch of your life.
There are numerous other persons well acquainted with prison matters here. Infact, my bar, The Kommittee of experts and has all manner of prison experts wetting their throats there. The experts on incarceration affairs tell me that the government of Kenya will not let you go hungry as it extorts free labour out of you. You will enjoy the finest prison cuisine at the expense of our generous republic.
These experts tell me that you will enjoy plenty of gourmet mùrùrù. ‘Múrúrú’ is prison lingo for food. It is a barely edible, standard Prison food ration, or as they call, it reseni. It’s carefully calculated to be just enough to sustain your basal metabolic rate and not a calorie more. This is done by government experts who know many things.
My good friend Mùrathi, who served a few sentences for touting and who sadly took his own life a while back, told me that you ate the mùrùrù regardless of your feelings about it. If you felt that the mùrùrù was not up to the lofty standards of your delicate palate, you kept your feelings to yourself and ate it. If you didn’t, you risked inviting unnecessary violence against your person from law enforcement and convicted Ninjas alike.
Mùrathi, may he always rest in a good place, told me that Kùrega irio, or the refusal to eat, was very frowned upon within prison walls. This was tantamount to a hunger strike. If you dared to, ungekanyanga mkeka ya mkubwa. This was basically a trip to the office of the officer in charge. Afterwards, you would be placed in an isolation cell and downgraded to hafu reseni. Hafu reseni was half of the ration you couldn’t survive on in the first place. I didn’t understand the rationale.
Another friend and prison insider, Garba, also tells me many things about his stays in prison. He tells me that at first, mùrùrù tastes like a Nazi concentration camp and Mondays with a slight whiff of disease. Then after a while, it tastes like rainbows, sunny afternoons and caviar. You get to love it like a fat kid loves cake.
The experts tell me that it is all fun and games until the green moody hopper bus goes through the gates of prison. After that, it’s all downhill from there. Things get Darwinian. My experienced Ninjas tell me that once you see an entrance with a large sign written ‘KIMYA!’ inside prison grounds, you know that life is about to show you very unpleasant things.
There is, apparently, a smaller sign near the large sign that says; Heshimu hesabu na maombi. The mathematics of the total number of prisoners is the single most important thing in the Prison service. If the equations and calculations don’t add up, someone risks receiving a very enhanced beating. If you ask all prison warders after a shift, like I always ask my friend Jonte; they know the total number of prisoners by heart. I always ask him, ‘’jonte, leo mahabusu ni wangapi?”
“724!” He replies.
Once past the KIMYA! gate you will sing the gospel tune ‘Paulo na Sila waliomba, milango ya gereza, ikafunguka’ everyday, but the gates of prison will not open. This song is a major hit in the local prison scene. After all, what is punishment without a soundtrack?
There are three prisons where most petty offenders serve out their sentences around Thanda Maria.
There is the dreaded Gathigiriri prison in the searing hot plains of Mwea. This is by far and away the most feared prison around. In Mwea you will learn manners. If you do not; they will teach them to you with alot of aggravated assault. There you will grow rice in near fatal conditions under the threat of actual grievous bodily harm. There are no oxen to pull ploughs; and if there were, they wouldn’t use them. You and your fellow convicts will pull ploughs in knee high mud with prison officers on top of them because officers of the law cannot touch mud.
I am well informed that the mosquitoes there are on performance enhancing drugs. They will chew on you properly and if you are caught killing one, you risk attracting a beating. The rationale for the clobbering is pretty straightforward; “ unaua afande”. The mosquitoes and lice of Gathigiriri are plainclothes prison officers.
There is the equally dreaded Mara Njaù prison in the Makùyù. There you will toil the land and bring forth succulent fruits. You will not touch the fruits of your labour, and if you do, you will learn that there are very many ways to beat a person without sending him to heaven.
I am told that there is a popular saying at the Shambas in Maara Njaù that says, ‘Jembe ni tatu na kupepeta kwekwe’. You till the ground with three strikes of the Jembe and shake off the entangled weed. All the prisoners do this in unison like synchronized Olympic divers. I am told that if you aren’t familiar with farming practices and crop husbandry at the time of your incarceration , Kiboko itakufundisha.
Then there is the Mùrang’a GK prison in Murang’a town near Thanda Maria. It is colloquially known as porí, or polytechnic, for it’s benign and all-round low standards. The experts claim that it feels more like a school and it’s not up to date with the latest trends of human suffering. They claim that it is an embarrassment to prisons everywhere and it deters no one.
My Ninjas tell me that the Mùrang’a GoK prison acts as a distribution centre for the other prisons. If Maara Njaù requires people to till the orchards, they get farmhands from Mùrang’a. If Gathigiriri needs more bodies to drag the apollo ploughs, they get them from Mùrang’a. If you are lucky enough, you serve out your sentence at Mùrang’a prison. If you are out of luck; when a thing called ‘gatabara’ comes, you are shipped in the moody hopper to the gulags at Gathigiriri or Maara Njaù. There you will become very well acquainted with all the attendant hazards of a harsh prison sentence. Utarekebishwa na kazi Ngumu.
My friend the Hungry Tiger, one of the most competent consumers of fluids of the intoxicating variety in Thanda Maria, is no stranger to the prison industry. His throat is rumuored to be the third or fourth driest in the village; it all depends on who you ask. His throat often gets him into trouble.
Previously, in the story of betrayal in the village, a Ninja called Jembe did a 6-month stretch at the Porí courtesy of the Hungry Tiger’s loud mouth.
Little did the HT know that before long, he would be begging for cigarettes from Jembe behind the dreaded KIMYA! gate at Porí .
So next, I’ll take you on a trip inside the high Walls of Porí . It is a story of a Hungry Tiger, theft, a family feud, an iron spear, attempted murder, CIDs and dangerous prison contraband.