Thank You For Coming
It was 11:15 AM and I’m on the bus headed for a Nigerian prison.
Adetoun Samiat had invited me over for Eid celebration and this visit was a way of giving to people in confinement. Prior to this day, the closest knowledge I had of the prison were scenes from Nollywood movies, so I wasn’t sure how to feel about going there. During the trip, my mind drifted off; creating its own version of the world I was going to see, with its feel basked in vivid descriptions of what I had seen from movies. Every stop we made spiked some type of “fear” in me and whenever we moved again, I found out I was really eager to see what it’s like.
We were briefed about the conditions for going in — no phones, no one younger than 20, no metal or anything that might end up serving as a weapon of some kind — just before we got to our destination. At this point, I wasn’t sure how to feel anymore as I was already drawing up some analyses based on the conditions, in my head. We arrived at Ikoyi Prison, Lagos and were organized in a group right in front of the entrance. Male to the left, Female to the right. Then, like a confident chicken, I tell my friend (I call her Sam): I will write about this place.
You would think that some bomb article was going to come out of this visit — I thought so too — but when we left, I found myself asking questions on both mine and their (the prisoners’) behalf. To avoid drifting to the end too quickly, the ladies were let in first, female wardens searching us — most likely for anything potentially dangerous that we might be innocently bringing in.
Again, that alarm went off in my head.
We are asked to stand aside and the guys started coming in, but with tags because; it was a male prison and you most likely do not want to wander off and accidentally mix up with the prisoners. While the male visitor set was coming in, I took some time to study them. They were all outside, looking at these visitors that had come from the other side. Some of them were on another end, playing football on the greenest grass I have ever seen recently. Others just roamed about, each step with some hope and more with withdrawals from hope. On the football field, someone that looked like he was mixed race was playing football with a whole team. The match will later end, we will find that people had been let in from outside to come play with the prisoners and while they left for their homes, this clean, mixed race guy will be leaving for his cell.
We formed another queue, this time in twos and while passing through to go to the mosque, I heard some these men mutter “thank you for coming” — my humanity rose to the surface. I felt the wishes from their air as we went on and kept telling myself that these people were not as horrible as I expected. Truly, different criminal acts had made this place their home, but somehow some people really could be corrected. I told myself that my humanity didn’t immediately make them fantastic people, it just showed you that they had to come this far before steering their lives in the right course(s).
I took in the scenery and it wasn’t too good or bad. Somehow, I wished some more activities were put in place to change people’s lives for when they get out. We kept our shoes in bowls outside the mosque and went on to sit inside. At this time it was filled with more of them and as we came in, I could tell they looked to us first, for a kind of mercy they knew we could never give; then with gratitude that we regarded them enough to come visit.
The topic was about cholera, diarrhea, dysentery and how it was communicable. There were tips on first aid measures suitable for them. There were question and answer sessions and there were conclusions. At the conclusion, the imam of the mosque (also a prisoner) said they had nothing to offer us than prayers. He said they were really appreciative and are super grateful that we regard them as our brothers regardless of the situation. My humanity reached its peak when these prayers were topped off with a song from them, simply begging God to liberate them soon.
We step out of the mosque and a whole lot more people rush in to receive what we had brought. This was where the huge bearded potbellied guy I had seen coordinating and slightly bullying, insulted them for liking freebies too much and we all had a brief laugh. On our way out, I heard the same thing muttered beneath their breaths: “Thank you for coming” and wished we had stayed a bit longer to ask some questions about how some of them had ended up there.
It looked really peaceful and it might have been just for that day, but another thing I deduced was that the population was too much for such a small size. Sam and I talked about how mental health awareness was really needed in prison for all of them — whether actual perpetrators or the unfortunate. Few of them in blue uniforms had a newness to their looks, the ones without uniforms exhibit a long stay that even had a tell on the structure of the building from outside. Our prison system needs measures that will drastically reduce the number of people in prison and also correct them accordingly.
While a whole other things happened later that day, this 30-minutes visit stood out the most. Thank you for inviting me, Sam.