June 6th, 2018
Kamiti Maximum Prison
I thought my first night in prison would be a lot like my first night in boarding school. I was wrong. In boarding school, there was nobody making the rounds at night with a gun. A cane, yes. But not a gun.
Somebody yells, “Zima taa” (lights out) at 23:00hrs, and there is darkness. Until my eyes get used to the lights streaming into the cell from outside.
It is official. I am in the eighth worst prison in the world. Earlier today I passed by the cell once occupied by Tom Cholmondeley. I expected something different about this cell. I don’t know what exactly, but I expected more from it. When I saw it, it seemed so… normal.
There was a tree he planted in the compound outside his cell when he was a prisoner here and I was looking forward to seeing it. I kept wondering how tall and how thick it would be. Would he have curved a “Cholmondeley” was here on the stem?
I really wanted to see Cholmondeley’s tree so I could cut it down. A man who took life when he was alive shouldn’t be remembered for having nurtured life after his demise. A tree planted by Cholmondeley, a convicted murderer, represents life. Murderers take lives. They don’t create them. That is why that tree has no business alive.
I looked for that tree on my first day at Kamiti Maximum Prison. I didn’t find it. Someone beat me to it apparently. I love trees. Just not ones planted by people who take lives. If you are a murderer, you have no business pretending to care for the environment.
I should know.
My Armpits Don’t Stink
I am seated on my bunker, hand tucked behind my head. My armpits stink, but it is a smell I have gotten used to by now. Before my incarceration, I never once had to suffer the smell of my armpits because they never smelled.
Different women had different theories about that. “It is because you drink a lot of water,” one of them theorized. “Maybe you are an alien.” One dumber than most wondered.
They all had one thing in common though. They always wondered why my armpits never smelled. One of them was so bothered by this that she went ahead and bought me deodorant. And insisted that I wear it at all times, the fact that my armpits never smelled notwithstanding.
I didn’t protest. I liked her. I loved her. I loved her so much that I married her.
I think of the conversation that was used to convict me.
Him: Can you tell the court what happened on December 25th, 2017 at 10:14 a.m. that is of interest to this case?
Me: Depends. What is of interest to this case?
Him: (Rolls eyes) Anything connected to the death of your wife the late Mrs. Diana Tai.
Me: What’s your name again?
Him: I am not the one on trial here.
Me: You sure? Coz a man so dumb deserve to be on trial every day of his life.
Him: (Faces the judge) Your Honor…
Judge: Yeah, I know. (Turns to me) If you keep wasting this court’s time, we will have to adjourn, remand you for a couple of months longer then try again when you are feeling more cooperative.
Me: (To “Him”) Why don’t you just ask me what you really want to ask me, man.
Him: My name is Josphat Maina, I am with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and I am the prosecutor in this case.
Me: You know, I miss the good old days when police officers were prosecutors. At least their ignorance could be excused vide their not having gone to law school. What is your excuse?
Him: Mr. Tai…
Me: I was driving my wife to church. It was Christmas morning after all. She was a churchgoer that one. I was not.
Him: And then?
Me: Well, I looked at her. She was a beautiful girl, Diana. A complete knockout. Men couldn’t keep their paws off of her and every now and then, she let them.
Him: (Loud sigh) Was there a gun in the car?
Me: Yes. It was in the glove compartment. I did not want her to look so beautiful anymore, so I drove to a lonely path, fetched the gun from the glove compartment and shot her in the face.
Well, maybe I am exaggerating a few things about that conversation. For example, he showed a video of us robbing an armored vehicle, Diana and me. Right there in court, he played the video to the judge and the members of the public, curious about this guy who had been charged with the murder of his wife.
I don’t know why my case is such a crowd puller. People murder their spouses all the time. Well, it seems gone are the days when women used to murder their husbands themselves, instead opting to hire someone to do it, but husbands still prefer to do it the old school way.
Take a gun, load it, point it to her head and pff.
Ah yes, the video.
It was supposed to be an easy job. They all are. Since we couldn’t rob the bank because people don’t rob banks anymore unless they are geniuses or suicidal, we opted to go the armored vehicle way. There is less security and reduced chances of collateral damage.
We were there on time. Me, Diana and this other kid we had collected from the KDF. He had seen combat, gotten a little messed up in the head, beaten a bunch of people every now and then and honorably discharged.
“That is what they will do to you.” He loved to say. “They will smile at you, kiss you, bite you, chew you, squeeze all the juice out of you and when you are nothing but tasteless gum in their mouths, they will pull you out and stick you under some chair in a boring meeting.”
Whoever “they” are, they sure did a number on him.
What was his name? Ah, yes. Ian. Formerly Lance Corporal Ian. May his dead soul keep burning in the hottest corner of hell. The devil knows I will be joining him soon.
We showed up at the rendezvous point on time. So did the armored vehicle. Everything was going great. We yelled our orders, we shot the wheels. Right in the middle of Jogoo Road at 11:00 in the morning. They refused to open up.
So I borrowed this idea from a TV series I watched earlier. If you want someone to get out of an armored vehicle, douse it with petrol and light it up. They’ll come out faster than you can say, “show me the money.”
They came out shooting. Part of being a robber is to anticipate your opponents’ moves. We expected this. We fired back, but only to stop them, not to kill them. “Shoot the limbs, not the body or head.” Had been my instructions.
But Ian brought his combat skills to a robbery. Head shots. Head shots. Head shots. Two of the security guys surrendered. As Diana and I were loading the money into our vehicle, Ian ordered the two guards to kneel. He stepped behind them and executed them.
Right there in the middle of the highway. He killed everybody.
I smiled at him. I told him I understand. Gave him a pat on the back. “These things happen,” I said. “Get in the car,” I said. “We have to go before the cavalry shows up.”
He turned his head to me. I pointed my Ak-47 at the back of his head and emptied the magazine in it.
Diana vomited. She took off her mask to do that. And the whole world saw her face.
In court, he froze the image of Diana’s naked face caught on the armored vehicle’s camera;
Him: Is this why you killed her? Because she was identified?
Me: First of all, that isn’t me in that video. Secondly, no. I killed her because she was screwing around. I feel like I have made myself very clear on this.
Him: Then why after shooting her in the head, did you go ahead and burn the car with her body in it? So her body couldn’t be identified?
Me: If I didn’t want her body identified, I would have buried her so deep in the ground, you morons and your canines wouldn’t catch even a scent of her memory.
Him: Then why did you burn her?
Me: Don’t you get it? I want her ugly. She was beautiful in life. I wanted her ugly in death. Are we done here? I could use a burger. I don’t suppose you could have one shipped to whatever hole this court will put me in.
Nothing gets you a life sentence faster than murder.
The Tweeker Next Door
On my first night in jail, this tweeker in the next cell came trembling over to me. There is something disturbing about an addict. I don’t know what he is addicted to but he does all sorts of things to feed the addiction.
Back when Cholmondoley was a prisoner here, he wrote that someone had been sodomized so badly that his rectum was hanging out. You don’t want to be an addict and a prisoner. You really don’t. Unless of course that is your kind of thing. It is 2018. Any speck of judgment I had in me has by now been eaten away by the many experiences I have had in my thirty-six years of living.
You can’t be a judgmental prisoner.
I have always been a rambler and most times when I start talking or entering accounts of my life into this diary, I never know what I will say next or how the account will end. So forgive my disorderly mind. It has a tendency to jump from one thought to the next.
Some people might find that chaotic, I think of it as freedom. You have to let your thoughts be free to fly wherever they want. In prison, you can’t afford to control your thoughts. You are incarcerated for heaven’s sake. Now you are going to incarcerate your brain too? If you can’t have a free mind, you don’t deserve to have a brain in the first place.
So this tweeker next door, he came to me, trembling, skinny, teeth stained, feet cracked in his worn out slippers, I could almost make out the bony structure underneath his striped prison garb.
Tweeker: Hi. I am a tweeker.
Me: I can see that.
Him: You need a lover?
Me: No darling. I have my hand for that. But thanks for the offer.
Him: Sometimes a hand isn’t enough. Sometimes a man just needs a warm body.
Me: Well trust me, my hand is warm enough, thank you very much.
Him: In case you change your mind…
Me: I won’t.
Him: You’re Tai, aren’t you? That guy who killed his wife because she wasn’t ugly enough?
Me: That’s me. My reputation precedes me I suppose.
Him: They gave you life?
Me: If by life you mean a life sentence, then yeah.
Him: Guys here are going to hate you.
Me: Why? I like to think of myself as a likeable enough fellow.
Him: They don’t like women killers.
Me: It appears they haven’t met enough women.
Him: They don’t like rapists either.
Me: That’s funny. I hear they rape people in here all the time.
Him: That is different.
Me: You know Tweeker, this conversation gets more bizarre with every passing second.
Him: They gave me life too.
Me: How terrible.
Him: The tone of your voice tells me you are not sympathetic to my plight.
Me: That is correct.
Him: You shouldn’t be.
Me: I guessed as much.
Him: You are very judgmental for a prisoner.
Me: if you say so. Now if you don’t mind, can you shut please? I need to breathe and your mouth stinks.
Him: There used to be these twins in the place where I used to live.
Me: I have a feeling you are going to tell me this story whether or not I want to hear it.
Him: They were beautiful boys when they weren’t crying. I hate people who cry. But their mama loved making them cry. I thought they hated crying too. I mean, nobody likes crying, right?
I don’t answer.
Me: That wasn’t a rhetorical question?
Him: Rhe what?
Me: Right. Nobody likes crying. Is that you? Did you shit your pants?
Him: No. I just smell like that sometimes.
Him: One day their mama was beating them. With a rolling pin, a chair, a belt, a pair of slippers, you name it, she used it. They cried. They wailed. They begged. I couldn’t stand it. So I went to her. I meant to ask her nicely to stop beating them but she must have said something bad. We had a confrontation. Next thing I knew, she was lying there, not moving. I think the knife in her throat her something to do with it.
Me: Yeah. I think so too. Well, at least she wasn’t beating them anymore, right?
Him: Yeah, but they kept crying. They knelt beside her body, trying to shake her awake. Screaming that they were hungry. So I told them I had food in the house.
Me: And did you?
Him: Did I what?
Me: Have food in the house?
Him: Yes! (He looks hurt) I wouldn’t lie to children about food! I am not a monster!
Me: OK. OK. Jesus! Would you stop yelling? Your mouth smells badly enough as it is.
Him: It’s just… (oh my God, is he about to cry?) it’s just… I don’t like it when people accuse me of lying, OK?
We stay silent for a while. A silence I really enjoy. Just when I think we are done with the conversation, he speaks, his voice distant, his gaze fixed on a vague point in the air.
Him: Children. They have such fragile necks, you know.
Me: No. I don’t know.
Him: A child’s neck, when you break it, you might not even realize it is broken. Not like an adult’s.
Me: What are you even talking about?
Him: They just wouldn’t stop crying. “I want my mum,” they kept crying. Crying for a woman who loved making them cry when they hated crying. (Deep sigh) Oh, children’s neck. So fragile.
My bunkmate is breathing heavily. His hand is making these vigorous up and down movements under his bed sheets. I choose not to think what could be happening here. These thoughts cross your mind, but you don’t want to dwell on them.
He is new. Has been my cellmate only two weeks. The other one died of “cholera”, God rest his soul. He was a nice guy, well within the definition of “nice” to a prisoner.
He always had these tidbits of useless information. “Did you know Cleopatra spoke nine languages? No? Well, now you know.”
He always had a book on him. People who read though always have a terrible time in prison. well, more terrible than those who don’t read.
See, if you are a reader, you are a thinker. You think and think. You look at the walls within whose confines you are not allowed to leave. Your mind dwells on that. “I can’t leave! I can’t leave!” It doesn’t make you angry, it just leaves you dissatisfied. You always want more than you have.
You want better food. More time in the library. Even though you can’t help it, you want to be treated a little better than those inmates who aren’t so “smart”.
That was my former cellmate. He got in bad with some guards over the status of his bed. There were bedbugs there and he couldn’t have it. He insisted on a fumigation. They fumigated. It didn’t work. He insisted on another one and they started saying things like, “Huku ni jela si kwa mamako.” (This is prison, not your mother’s house.)
He said something like, “This is what you get when prisons are guarded by people who scored D’s.” Nobody hates being looked down upon by educated people more than people who scored a D in high school. Especially if those people have batons and a uniform.
They entered the cell. Three of them. His teeth ate their boots. His bones got into an intense “who can break first” competition with their batons. His bones lost. Horribly.
By the time they were dragging him out of the cell and into the infirmary, his excretion system wasn’t working. Most accurately, it was working on overtime; uncontrollably.
Two days later, I got a new cellmate. The other one apparently had succumbed to his battle with cholera. That is how cholera gets you here sometimes. Not from the food you eat or the water you drink but from the physical relationship between you and the guards.
One thing you learn in a prison like this is the art of keeping your head down. They beat him for about a half hour. Sometimes his blood splashed on me. I could hear the sound of his cracking bones long after his painful groans died in his throat.
He even said once or twice, “Tai, do something.”
I did something alright. I stayed out of it. Not once did my eyes leave the book I was “reading” to look at him. I can imagine just how hopeless he was feeling, knowing that he was being murdered in front of another human being and a helping hand wouldn’t be extended his way.
Not even a halfhearted word of, “Please sir, he was being stupid. He has learned his lesson.” From me.
A Woman’s Bosom
They say that what goes around comes back around. I think that is hubris. The action reaction thing works well in Physics but not everything in life is about Physics.
There was a little more than twelve million shillings in that armored vehicle, but that wasn’t why we robbed it. There was also a small pouch full of uncut diamonds. Now that, that was worth dying for. But not worth killing for.
Three weeks into my stretch, the warden summoned me. He had a cat in the office which he would hold close, run his hand down its fur as it purred softly on his lap, then hit its head with his knuckles hard.
It would meow and run off, then come back when he called. And the process would start all over again.
Me: Sit, sir?
Him: Yes Tai. Have a sit.
He was leaning back in his swivel seat, stroking the cat gently as it purred on his lap, eyes half closed. I cautiously entered the office and sat down.
I was expecting him to summon me because rumors spread fast in prison. By now, he must have heard of the uncut diamonds.
Stolen money is hard to spend. Bills are marked and you have to keep looking over your shoulder for a few years, maybe decades. Besides, you have to clean the money, and that will cost you. What is worse than spending money to have “your” money cleaned is having to deal with these shady people who clean the money. They are not exactly the kind of men and women you want your children around.
But uncut diamonds, they are just rocks. You get them cut, pay a handsome fee for this service and you are set for life.
Warden: So, you had a problem most men walk into with their eyes open.
He smiles. It is a generous smile. The kind that reaches the eyes and creases the entire face. He strokes the cat. And strokes. And strokes. It’s purring gets louder and louder then suddenly, he hits it over the head with his knuckles hard.
It jumps off his lap and runs to one corner of his office.
Him: Did you see that?
Me: Did I see what?
Him: Come on Tai. It’s OK. This isn’t one of those, “you didn’t see anything” situations. Did you see what I did with the cat?
Me: Yes sir.
Him: Give it a few minutes. Then I will call out. “Puss, Puss.” My voice will be real gentle. It will come close. I will lean to it gently and stroke its fur for a minute. It will let me lift it again. Carry it on my lap. Stroke it. And hit it. Do you know why I do that?
Me: No sir.
Him: Because a cat is like a man. A man is very stupid in the face of a woman he thinks he “loves.” What the hell is love anyway? And women know this. So she will call your name real soft, “Puss, Puss,” and like this cat, you will go to her. You will lay your head on her bosom as she strokes your hair. You will get comfortable and it is at that moment she will betray you, knock you over the head, get you running. You will be angry, you will run, swear up and down that you don’t need that shit, and when enough time passes, she will send one message to your phone. “Hi.” She will whisper your name with that voice you find glorious, “Puss, Puss,” she will call and you will run back into her arms, lay your head on her bosom and let her stroke your hair.
Me: I love the imagery sir.
Him: Now if my cat were to kill me, same way you killed your wife, I would understand. Hell, I even respect you for it. You stood up to the man if you catch my drift. I wish I had the balls to kill my wife. God knows I have been tempted a time or two. But then that would mean getting to spend some quality time in here wearing the same hideous uniform as you pigs and well, it’s not worth it.
Me: Very wise sir.
Him: You don’t say very much, do you?
Me: I like to listen.
Him: Well, (Leans over his desk and his voice gets softer as he snaps his finger) Puss. Puss, Puss, Puss…
Puss: (Raises its head and looks at him) Meow.
Him: Puuuuuuuss… (Flashes that generous smile again) Puss, Puss, Puss….
It runs right to his desk and jumps on his lap. He starts stroking the fur again.
Him: I will not waste your time. I don’t care that you killed the bitch. She probably had it coming. Tell me about the diamonds.
Me: The diamonds sir?
Him: (His eyes narrow) You are an educated guy, no?
Me: I have been known to crack a book or two in my time.
Him: Studied B.Com at Kenyatta University, graduated with a Second Class Upper Division – not the best but not the worst either – worked at a few banks for a decade until you were indicted for embezzlement. Just couldn’t keep those fingers out of the cookie jar, could you, Tai?
Me: I was never convicted.
Him: That’s neither here nor there. In case you actually stole that money, I just want you to know that I understand. I know how hard it is to have so much money pass through your hands yet none of it belongs to you. I do understand.
Me: Yes sir.
Him: A man like you, a man of your education and interests, I am sure you understand the concept of capitalism.
Me: Demand and supply.
Him: Uh huh. You have serving a life sentence and you’ve been in prison what, four, five months?
Me: Four months, three weeks and one day.
Him: But who is counting, right? (I chuckle. He leans closer.) I can give you your freedom back. In exchange for a cut of the diamonds.
Me: Diamonds sir?
As I ask, my eyes are roving his office. Looking for hidden cameras or bugs, not that I would see them from here. So the best I can do is bullshit my way around this.
He smiles. He hits the cat over the head.
Him: Say, you want to have this conversation someplace else? Somewhere more, trustworthy?
Me: My legs could use a stretch.
Him: You a God man Tai?
Me: I am broken beyond repair. I only believe in what I can see, feel, hear, sense… If it is beyond the comprehension of my five senses, I don’t believe in it.
Him: So you will only believe in God if you see His face, or smell His fart or taste him or whatever?
Me: Yes sir.
Him: Yeah. You are broken beyond repair. Come on. Let’s go.
I took him to the chapel. He knelt on one of the pews. Did a sign of the cross. Mumbled a few words to God. Did the sign of the cross again and took a seat.
Him: Come on. Sit down
I sat down.
Him: It’s quiet here, isn’t it?
Me: Yes sir.
Him: Do you want to frisk me?
Me: Frisk you sir?
Him: Come on (stands up) Frisk me. I insist.
I frisk him. Thoroughly. He is neither armed nor bugged.
Him: I don’t have much patience and you don’t have much time. Let me tell you how my prison works. People here hate women killers almost as much as they hate rapists and child killers. You have met the tweeker, haven’t you? He eats sausages at least five times a day and not with his mouth alone if you get my drift. That is what happens to you here if you kill women and children.
Me: Yes sir.
Him: You might have noticed that people have generally left you alone. Who do you think convinced them to do that?
Me: You sir.
Him: I can let you break out of this prison. People break out of Kamiti all the time. But it will cost you. Now if you don’t let me extend this service to you, I can assure you that you will be the next Tweeker faster than you can say Jesus Christ. You have a demand for freedom; I have a demand for wealth. I say we do business.
Me: I thought you would never ask.
We shook on it. And tonight is the night I am supposed to be breaking out of prison.
Shabaan Ibrahim Bakari
Someone yelps as they get raped then shut up when something gets rammed down their throats. Someone complains about the bedbugs. A newcomer cries that he wants to go home, see his mommy one last time.
Then as the night wears on, it gets silent as more and more people sleep.
My cellmate has satisfied himself for the night. I hope he enjoyed it. He will never do it again. Never will he ever see another sunrise. It is easy to kill a man once you have gotten the hang of it.
You know where the carotid artery is. All you have to do is put something sharp in there. It is a quick in and out job. Stab, pull out the sharp object and the man will be staggering all over the place as he bleeds out. His eyes will be all open with terror, his hand will be on his throat, trying to stop the bleeding, he can’t even scream because of the blood in his throat and he will die wondering how it all happened so fast.
He is lying on the floor, the blood growing cold under him. He has been dead about a half hour now.
One guard is making the rounds. Soon enough he is at my door. He sees the blood. He sees the body. He demands that my cell be opened. He blows the whistle. Soon, the entire prison is up. Nothing gets you up quicker than a blowing whistle in the dead of the prison night.
I have my hands on him. I tackle him to the floor. The response of the other guards is delayed for a couple of minutes. By the time they get here, I am in the other guard’s clothes and strolling out of the cells.
They are too busy taking in the bloodied cell. Nothing gets blood spreading all over the place faster than a sliced carotid artery. It leads to one messy death.
By the time I am riding out of Kamiti Prison in the boot of a deliveries van that was pointed out to me by the warden, he is busy caressing three cut diamonds in his hands, smiling at the perks of a beautiful government job, running the eighth worst prison in the world.
The guard whose uniform I am wearing will get a little something too. The warden will make sure of it. And by the time the country hears of yet another prison break at Kamiti Maximum Prison, I will be well on my way to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania with a passport that declares me to be Shabaan Ibrahim Bakari.
June 8th, 2018
Rosso – Trarza Region
Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Me: Of all the shitty places in this entire shitty world, you chose THIS?
Her: They won’t be looking for you here.
Me: We are millionaires. We couldn’t go to some place where…
Her: Wow Shabaan. Not even a change of name could get you to stop whining.
Me: I missed you.
Her: What did you miss? The corpse or the ghost?
Me: The ghost sounds more romantic.
I wish I could see her figure but it is all covered up in the Buibui; the burka that hides even her eyes from me.
Me: How long before we dump this country for civilization?
Her: A year. Maybe two.
It might be a dry area with a truckload of camels, but the sunsets are to die for. We are seated outside on the verandah, watching the sun sink into the horizon with a great burst of orange pride.
Her: We made it. (Chuckles) I can’t believe this, but we actually made it.
Me: Yes we did. Now go to the kitchen and fix me up a hot plate.
Her: Go do it yourself.
Me: I would, but you are the one who chose an Islamic state, so act like you belong, woman.
Her: You are enjoying this, aren’t you?
My mind flies back to Christmas morning. I am driving with a corpse beside me. A corpse bought from the city mortuary. Those guys will sell you anything if your pockets are deep enough. We have just come from robbing that armored vehicle Diana and I and we have some money to spend.
I buy a corpse – the body of a girl who didn’t stand to be claimed by anyone in the family. One of those that end up getting a shallow grave at Lang’ata Cemetery. Won’t be missed by anybody.
She is of the same height and weight as Diana. I have dressed her in Diana’s clothes, watch, shoes, wig, everything.
And I am driving her in our car.
I shoot the body in the head. When you burn a live human being, the autopsy finds smoke in the body’s lungs. I can’t have that. I have to find a way for the coroner to explain why there is no smoke in the lungs of someone who burned to death.
When I burn her, everyone will think it is my wife, who has by now left the country on an assumed name to start a new life away.
I stand beside the burning car. I light up a cigarette and wait. Soon enough, someone notices and investigates.
A crowd has formed around me but I have a gun in hand. They wouldn’t attack me unless they want a bullet in the face. The cops come, I dump the gun and they take me away.
The rest of it is easy. I had a fight with my wife. I killed her. I burned her. She was wanted for robbery with violence and murder for the death of Ian. Now that she is dead, she is not wanted anymore.
They jail me for her death and the rest is history.
She is now heading to the kitchen to fix dinner.
Me: Hey Dee…
Her: Shh. (Whispers) My name is Maria now.
Me: I won’t call you that.
I join her in the house laughing.
Me: I am happy, thank you.
Her: Thank me by joining me in the kitchen.
Me: OK, I am not THAT happy. I have a better idea.
Me: Let’s go to the bedroom. Make a baby.
Her: You sure you are ready for that?
Me: Now that we are no longer robbers, yeah I think we can be parents.
The sunsets here are beautiful. And so is retirement and making babies.