Pademba Road Prison Not Hell – My First Hand Experience – Part I
Adrenalin heaved up my head as I took the first step into the Pademba Road prison, the country’s maximum prison where various individuals, including politicians, civil rights activists, debtors, rebels and hardened criminals have been housed and are still being kept.
I was in the Maximum Pademba Road prison yard not because of a court order, or a police report, but rather as an invitation from the boss – the Director of Prisons Services in the country. The purpose of my visit was to carry out an impartial inspection, but that did not stop my blood from pumping with rapid speed, based on the fear that I am entering into a confinement where the worst of society’s criminals are kept, an enclave of living hell.
But soon after the searching and tagging, which I learnt is a routine for every one not excluding even the Director of Prisons (and President of the Republic if he happens to pay a visit there), I soon got to learn otherwise as the keys to the main yard clanged open the metal doors leading to every one in the penitentiary. The pitch of my apprehension heaved down a little as I stared at inmates engaged in various chores, doing their hair, having a hair cut and chatting hilariously in the immediate main arena of the prison yard.
I even began to feel at rest as I saw inmates interacting and exchanging greetings with my guide, the Public Relation Officer of the Prisons Department who earlier told me that his work at the Pademba Prison yard includes having interpersonal relationships with the inmates, and that he is friend to most of the inmates who served their jail sentences during the time he was working in the prison yard as a cell guard. I extended handshakes to a few of them who came around me, recognizing the presence of a stranger in their midst. Apparently they were trying to place me – as to if I am also a new inmate or a Red Cross officer or even a senior government functionary. A new face in the prison yard is a source of much speculation and news.
I introduced myself to some of them, hoping that they may give me leads to some of the problems in the yard that I thought existed. I was anxious to hear complaints of maltreatments, no food, no water, no beddings, no drugs, light but I was disappointed to note that the only cries centered on the delay of justice in the Law courts, overcrowding and perverted justice.
Feeling let down on my initial thoughts, I turned to my guide wanting to see how I could know whether such complaints has anything to do with the administration of the Prison yard but the answer came slapping me in the face we are just custodians of these people, we don’t make arrests and bring them here, we are not the ones passing the verdicts and holding onto some for years without judgment, the young PRO pulled a clever one there and I resigned from asking further questions about the matter anymore.
As an escape, I asked my guide to take me to the various departments caring for inmates so I can see and judge for myself. Strolling further into the yard, we entered the engineering department responsible for providing electricity and the repairs of electricals in the yard. After my introduction and purpose of visit explained, without asking questions, the officer in charge Assistant Superintendent Kamara started refuting allegations dominating the airwaves. People outside have been saying there is no light in the yard but look here is the generator that is able to generate electricity for the whole yard and even the neighbourhood and it comes on automatically within two minutes after a blackout, the officer said. He further stated that the prison is a priority for the NPA. I shook my head in the affirmative since nobody among the inmates although given the freehold to talk to me ever mentioned it despite my insistent questions on the issue earlier with them. Within the power house, I saw over twenty inmates all engaged in doing one thing or the other, I asked what they were doing; the chief engineer replied we train them in all sorts of things so that they are useful to society and are able to help themselves economically after they have been freed,.
Prison Officers: Readying for Duty
My guide led me to our next stop, the bakery. I saw starks of freshly baked bread clogging an area in the size of two standard master bedrooms and six foot high. What are you doing with all these I asked in awe; forgetting the fact that I had been told that the prisons currently houses more than one thousand inmates; three times the original number the jail was meant for. But my curiosity did not stop at that; do you sell some out to the public to, to generate funds I asked keen to rid my head on the doubt that such number of bread is utilized in the jail yard, the answer from the Officer in charge of the Bakery Mohamed Lamin Turay was “No.” My journalistic curiosity still made me feel there’s more I should dig out and I asked do they eat the bread all like this with no and I was led by my hands to the provision store.
I straight away opted to go elsewhere and I was taken to the clinic. Not many patients were admitted at the hospital but I talked to Corporal Lamin who read his credentials (CHO) telling me all other personnel are as qualified too and there is a trained physician attached to the clinic too. I met my first sad story here at the clinic: Government drug allocation that is supposed to be supplied quarterly is never delivered on time and as such, the clinic usually has an acute shortage of drugs. This situation of lack of drugs, including much essential ones, are not supplied for months, giving cause for referrals for even minor medical problems.
Recently the situation almost got out of hand, but thankfully, the Justice Sector Development Programme had to intervene with supplies that are being used up to date.
At the kitchen, hundreds of inmates lined up to queue for food supplies with each one receiving a bowlful of rice and sauce which I found to be a very generous supply even to those that may be restricted within the walls of Pademba Road Maximum Prisons.
At first sight I opted to get a taste of the food but knew just too well that I have to finish my job of discovering a new world which I have been so keen to do. I asked for the supply and I learnt it was regular but depends on the number of inmates available at the yard. A brave but generous young fellow approached me and offered me food eat from his bowl but not without requesting a thousand Leones.
Time to see the various cell blocks and we were joined by Assistant Superintendent Samura in charge of all the halls. Through Samura, I leant about the various halls in the yard, Wilberforce, Blyden, Howard and Clarkson. Also, I saw the remand cell, the female yard, the Mosque and the church built by the Catholic Mission.
What I was about to learn is the most interesting part of my visit to the widely acclaimed dungeon – Pademba Road Prison – Look forward to the next issue of this series.
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