It is not really a feeling that can be put into words; I was immediately overwhelmed by a flurry of emotions almost as instantly as I went through the gate of the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, one of Kenya’s worst and most feared prisons. I guess it was curiosity, excitement and anxiety all rolled into one.
I got to visit Kamiti Maximum Security Prison this past week, a trip that fondly awakened distant memories of my first visit to a prison in the early 2000s.
My Experience at Kamiti Prison
I remember feeling very anxious when I first entered the section where the inmates reside, just based on the idea that I’ll be confined with some of the most heinous criminals ever. It is a maximum-security prison reserved for the most hardcore criminals and convicts, serving time for some of the most unimaginable crimes, from the defilement of children to robbery with violence and even murder.
The area is just a large mass of bare brown ground, with a few flowers and bushes scattered at the edges of pavements and along perimeters. High guard towers can be seen from all views, even though I didn’t quite see any of them being manned.
A few prisoners stroll around the bare yard, many, in addition to their torn and worn out striped black and white uniform, donning orange sweaters and hats due to the extreme cold this time of the year.
The buildings the inmates reside in feature old colonial designs, having extremely high and thick walls lacking windows.
From the outer world, it’s hard to feel empathy for criminals, but once inside, all the contempt mysteriously wavers. The convicts all look harmless; from young men who don’t look a day over 18 walking around with pitiful, innocent faces to haggard old men with grey and white hairs, stooping postures and empty gazes, their eyes drained of soul and life.
Once you see them, you quickly forget that many of them are incarcerated in what can easily be considered as Kenya’s worst prison for a reason. Many of the older inmates are serving life sentences, some having been in prison for decades, way longer than I have been alive and will most likely die there. Others are lucky to have had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the elimination of capital punishment in 1987.
It gets even sadder when you remember how flawed the Kenyan criminal justice system and that half of the men doing time may have been wrongly imprisoned, probably fixed to save the real offenders, imprisoned because they couldn’t afford proper legal representation or because their appeals have stalled for years, even decades due to slow and inefficient judicial processes.