Would you volonteer to spend one month in a prison?
This just what the Belgian journalist Jan de Cock did. He had written a book about prisons on several continents. This book carried the title Hotel Prison. Now he decided to take a different angle to prison life, not to write from the perspective from an outsider, but he would be an insider, an inmate. The prison that was honoured to be chosen to be the place-to-be for Jan is Kakwangura prison in Butembo, a small village in eastern Congo. This month long visit was organised by the local chapter of Commission Justice et Paix. In March 2005 Jan leaves Uganda and enters Congo, and in the end he arrives in Butembo. He spends his first nights in the Procure, the administrative center of the diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Form here on he moves on to his next lodgings: prison. For the next month he spends 24 hours a day as one of the prisoners. There are three sections: two for the men and one for the women. The prison itself should be a temporary place, for after the court case they will be send (or freed) to a more central prison. But many inmates wait for days and weeks and months and years for this court case to take place. No one is a hurry. An important reason for staying in these lodgings is a land problem. The ownership of ancestral land is being disputed, maybe by relatives, maybe by a big man. Quite a number of woman have committed a murder. Often a husband, in order to survive, to stay alive.
Jan describes the daily routines to survive prison time. he show us the internal organization of the inmates, there are strict lines not to be crossed. There are duties not to be forgotten. There are responsibilities to be carried out. There is comraderie not be cancelled. All in an effort to make prison life livable. Jan writes about the inmates, their hopes and defeats, their crimes and their lack of crimes, for it is not easy to know how people get stuck in this prison. We walk with Jan and others to the nearest well outside prison to fill their jerrycans with water, for there is not always water at the prison itself. We hear the screams of prisoners being tortured and the attempts of the inmates to take care of the victims of brutality. Churches in the area manage to do some good for the inmates. Church members bring food, they bring the gospel of good news. At times relatives come around, after a long journey through dangerous territory. Jan talks with his fellow inmates about the political situation, the invasions by neighbouring countries Uganda and Rwanda, the wealth that is hidden underneath the trodden soil, but is carried away by foreigners.
His last night he spends in the special prison cell, one square meter floor space. What a way to survive.
Jan de Cock has written a good book, showing life in this prison from the inside.
Jan de Cock
De kelders van Congo.
Het relaas van een verblijf in een Congolese gevangenis