Dear Muthoni, I’m in Prison in Southern Sudan

Volume 14, Issue 1  | 
Published 09/07/2017

This story is dedicated to the South Sudanese 4 who are being held in illegal detention for the last two years and all other prisoners held in South Sudan.

Hello Muthoni, my dear wife, I know you have been wondering why I have not come home for the past two years, why I have not called you or written to explain why I suddenly went silent. It was not my wish. It has been due to the circumstances beyond my control. I was arrested and sentenced to a life term, without trial in any court. Until now I don’t know my crime. My jailers are only accusing me by saying that ‘this Kenyan is bad’. Fortunately, this is the first time I am getting an opportunity to write. So, let me write to you and explain all that has been happening.

First, let me ask you about the children. Is Aristotle doing well? Has he grown taller, what of the baby you were carrying in your womb? Was it a boy or a girl? How I wish it was a boy. Don’t blame me for this, it is only that all the daughters born in our family have never been successful in life. It has been so discouraging. I believe my mother is doing well, has she been causing problems to you? I know she is capable of harassing you. But I encourage you not to worry about her, that is how mothers- in-law behave towards the wives to their sons. I don’t know if it is a neurotic problem. Is it what we used to read about as auto-sexism in the books? All in all, you have to soldier on, she is just a mere woman married in our home the way you are also married.

I assume you want to know if there is any possibility of my release. Certainly, there is no hope. Maybe if I get an opportunity to escape or for a coup to take place; so that the new government may be sympathetic to me! However, I am also very hopeful that one day I will come out and walk away to my country Kenya. My heart always goes on fire whenever I think of Kenya. This prison is not like Kamiti, Mayani or Naivasha prisons in Kenya. The prison is meant for perpetrating brutality on the inmate. Unlike in Kenya where a prison is a learning and a rehabilitative centre; the situation here is different - sometimes they use under-ground holes as police cells. When they are filled up, the new captive is forced to dig one at gun point.

 I was arrested because I greeted a married woman by shaking her hand. I was not aware if shaking the hand of a married woman is a crime. If it is a crime then Kenyans visiting here must stay informed, because in Kenya we greet women by hugging them, whether your wife or not. The only woman you cannot hug is your mother-in-law and your daughter in law.  I do not use wash-rooms because there are none. They also accused me of being corrupt because I come from Kenya, to them when you are a Kenyan you are corrupt. They accused me of committing financial crimes because they found bank notes in my house.

The five soldiers who arrested me were very tall and very dark skinned, armed with AK 47s. Bandoliers were all over their dirty uniforms. These military officers are usually not trained, they are just former guerrilla fighters, usually illiterate. Their military motivation is fueled by ethnic animosity. When the state of Southern Sudan was formed they were never demobilized. It would have been better if educated young men and women were recruited and trained to work as a modern and disciplined army of Southern Sudan under a proper command structure; so that Southern Sudan as a multi-ethnic nation can be stable.

I was flogged on the day I was arrested. One of the military men commandeered others to flog me a hundred strokes on the buttocks before I was taken for trial. They are so childish as to believe that when you arrest a person you must beat him. They were caning me on the buttocks and when I touched there to soothe the pains they giggled and argued that they will not count that stroke, so I might have been caned more than three hundred strokes. One of the arresting officers slapped at my nape regularly, he did so as he roared at me for being stupid to think that there will never be a time when Kenya will break into war. I only wept. It is when I learned that shedding tears is a God-send. It moves the mind away from the point of pain. However, tears and tears alone cannot save humanity from the brutality of corporal punishment. Good conscience directs that a human being is not allowed to brutalize a fellow human being through corporal punishment.

My name has been source of joy and dignity in all the places I have ever visited. But in Southern Sudan it was a source of problems. I was beaten till I fainted because of my name. When I was asked my name I told them that my name is Lisalisabulukhwe Lie wa Khayongo, this is my official name. They thought I was jesting at them or cunningly hiding my true identity. They asked me to shout my name repeatedly. They tried to pronounce my name, but they all failed. They only ended up saying different things.  I don’t know why they failed to pronounce my name yet they also have names that can be difficult to pronounce. It must have been the mentality that all captors have towards their captives; or maybe what made them unable to pronounce my name is because of the need to make guttural sounds. Which they could not! The sound ‘kha’ is easily produced by Bantu speakers, Somalis and Indians in Kenya. But Luos and other Nilotic communities like the Dinka and Nuer in Southern Sudan cannot easily produce it. These are natural differences in human kind which must not work as a basis of inter-racial or inter-ethnic hatred.

I don’t know for how long I had fainted, I only vaguely remember hearing them suggesting to me names like Abu-Bakr, Saleh, John, Peter, Salim.  I behaved rudely in a way to protect the dignity inherent in my name. There is no challenging moment like the one in which you are being forced to abandon your name. Even if I was being beaten to death I could not do away with the name that I was given by my mother, no name is useless. Thence, I bore all the overnight beatings, as I waited for the trial.

There was no formal trial. I was just taken to a bush in the thicket of brambles and thorny twigs, this is where the military leaders carry out the trial of all suspects. They use the bush because sometimes they can decide to shoot the suspect and leave the body there for the hyenas to eat. This must be one of the reasons why we have many hyenas around the city of Juba. I was ordered to salute to the military leader after he delivered the ruling. Some military officers were clapping, others yelling as the military leader makes a ruling, sadism was so overt in their faces. He did not take any notes, perhaps he is trusted with superior wisdom. Though, this means that there is nothing like an appeal.

I was taken from the bush to a prison fenced with muddy walls. It had spacious rooms with holes in the wall. Had it not been a region of warm climate I don’t know what I could have been doing to counter the night chills. I felt happy when I met other Kenyans at the prison, they were all serving life sentences. I was very happy because of the opportunity now to speak Kiswahili and Sheng after struggling for days to speak in English to the Military officers who could not understand me, even if they ostensibly posed as English speakers.  

There are also other nationals in this prison but Kenyans are the leading population. Women and men are just placed in one confinement. But due to the high level of brutality by prison warders, you cannot come across the usual approaches men make when exposed to women.   Most of the women are from central and western Kenya, and also from eastern Uganda. They are mostly serving a jail term of fifteen years for having been sexually dishonest with Sudanese men.

There are no workers like nurses in the prison, the prisoners treat one another. Our main food is goat meat and the main work here is therefore to look after goats. We only eat once in the evening. Women prisoners are usually sent to fetch water from the well and from the creeks along the River Nile. But the problem with the creeks is that already the crocodiles have taken more than seven women. On hearing about crocodiles killing women prisoners, warders just savagely giggle and blame the women for having carried over foolishness from the countries of their birth.

We don’t use salt in our meat. We are so lucky that goats here have natural salt. I believe God has a purpose for everything ……

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