The hunter is now the hunted


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By Antony Gitonga

Behind the high walls that is the Naivasha GK Maximum Prison, hundreds of inmates squat in pairs outside their cells.

The inmates, who include death row and rape convicts, are searched one after another before entering their ‘homes’.

Some, too tired from squatting, rise to stretch their limbs as the scorching sun rises.

The Officer-in-Charge Patrick Mwenda inspects recovered contraband items.

Once in a while, a loud voice from a vicious looking warder barks ‘kaba’ (squat), and either out of fear or respect, the order is quickly obeyed.

For hours, the exercise goes on, with the warders meticulously searching seams from the inmates’ uniforms, some of which are torn beyond repair.

Once in a while a marufuku (contraband) is found hidden in the clothes, sandals, or even inside the cells.

This causes a flurry of events as the seniors rush to the ‘scene’, the inmate is quickly segregated and the contraband confiscated.

Humane manner

But a few metres from the search scene, other warders are searching their colleagues, though in a more humane manner.

The search is conducted at the main prison gate at the Gate Lodge, and here, there are no orders to kaba.

But from the looks on the warders’ faces, this is a humiliating exercise that gets worse when an inmate passes by.

“Unachungulia nini? Toka hapo mara moja!” (What are you looking at? Get lost!), screams a warder who is only wearing one shoe. In the room, several warders queue ready for the search. It was introduced a week ago to counter those bringing in contraband to the inmates.

There is a bench for the warders to sit on and a blanket to step on when they remove their shoes.

The warders, one after another, remove their shoes and socks for the search before they are allowed inside the prison for routine job.

Inside the Gate Lodge, torn socks emerge from the not-so-good-looking boots as the warders grumble and curse under their breath.

And due to the current heat, an unpleasant smell wafts from the room, but with emotions so high, no one seems to notice.

Buy new socks

Now many warders have decided to buy new socks or mend torn ones, as their status has turned out to be a source of concern.

“Hii soksi inamashimo mingi sana. Unajua juu ama chini aje? (This pair of socks has gaping holes everywhere. How do you distinguish the top from bottom?” jokes one of the officers conducting the search.

A warder nabbed ferrying contraband cigarettes to inmates removes them from under his sweater. [PHOTOS: ANTONY GITONGA /STANDARD]

This has been the trend for the last one week at the penal institution that has more than 550 warders and close to 2,000 inmates. This came after packets of cigarettes were nabbed in one of the cells and the inmates incriminated some of the warders.

For months, the new management has embarked on ridding the institution of contraband. And with the reforms, warders who have been accused of supplying inmates with the same are facing unfamiliar waters. The new directive has brought anger and condemnation from the warders, who term the move draconian. But the prison administration is adamant that the search will continue.

Instead of ferrying the contraband through the usual jackets and trousers, warders now use their boots.

Warders who declined to be named say that 14 junior officers led by a corporal were behind the search. The squad that has since been nicknamed kwekwe has been searching warders as they come in for their shifts.

“We are treated like criminals and subjected to humiliation by our colleagues,” says a warder.

The move has even brought bad blood between the special squad and the warders, who dismiss their colleagues as ‘sell-outs’.

“We cannot continue this way,” says another warder.

But a member of the kwekwe squad says they are simply doing their job and following orders.

So far, at least 50 warders have been suspended from entering the main prison on suspicion they are the main suppliers of contraband.

The officer-in-charge of the prison, Patrick Mwenda who confirmed the new directive, terms it successful. “We have established that some of the warders are using their shoes to ferry cigarettes and other banned materials to the inmates,” Mr Mwenda said.

Thrived for long

He adds that contraband trade in the penal institution has thrived for a long time.

“Some of those involved in the illegal trade have lost weight as they no longer get cash from the illicit deals,” he joked.

He says warders affected by the ban are the ones crying foul, adding that the new directive would continue.

Mwenda is adamant the search will go on until contraband become a thing of the past.

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